Schools shut as smog sparks health ‘emergency’
AUTHORITIES in Delhi yesterday closed schools, halted construction work and shut down a major power plant after days of choking smog led to warnings of a health “emergency” in the world’s most polluted capital.
Pollution levels have spiked in recent days as farmers in neighbouring Indian states burn crop stubble after the harvest and temperatures cool, trapping pollutants in a smoggy haze over the city.
Delhi’s air quality generally worsens with the onset of autumn, particularly after the Diwali festival when millions of revellers let off heavily polluting firecrackers.
But this year’s change has been particularly dramatic, with the American embassy reporting hazardous pollution levels for several days running.
Yesterday morning it put levels of PM2.5 – the fine particles linked to higher rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease – at an off-the-charts 778.
Levels between 301 and 500 are classified as “hazardous”, meaning everyone faces a risk of respiratory effects and should stay indoors, while levels above 500 are beyond the official index.
On November 6, hundreds of people, many wearing face masks, gathered in central Delhi to demand immediate action to curb the pollution levels, currently around 30 times the World Health Organisation’s recommended PM2.5 safe limit of 25 micrograms per cubic metre of air.
Long queues formed outside shops selling face masks, a relatively new phenomenon in Delhi, as are the air purifiers in homes.
The Delhi government has announced a series of measures including shutting schools for three days and banning all construction work for five days.
It also said it was considering cloud-seeding to produce rain, a technique Beijing used to clear the air ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games.
Commuters journey along a major road as heavy smog covers New Delhi yesterday.