Delhi choked by smog as mea­sures fail

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

NEW DELHI: A thick cloud of toxic smog has en­veloped In­dia’s cap­i­tal New Delhi, as govern­ment of­fi­cials strug­gled to tackle a pub­lic health cri­sis that is well into its sec­ond week.

A US em­bassy mea­sure showed lev­els of poi­sonous air­borne par­ti­cles, known as PM 2.5, had reached 495 on Mon­day, com­pared with the up­per limit of “good” qual­ity air at 50.

In­dia’s weather of­fice said fore­cast rain over the next three days could help clear the smog.

The Delhi state govern­ment de­clared a pub­lic health emer­gency last week af­ter pol­lu­tion lev­els in the city spiked, a yearly phe­nom­e­non blamed on a com­bi­na­tion of il­le­gal crop burn­ing in north­ern states, ve­hi­cle ex­hausts and dust.

Over the week­end, the govern­ment said it planned to use fire trucks to spray wa­ter in parts of the cap­i­tal, but the moves have had lit­tle ef­fect.

A se­nior fed­eral govern­ment of­fi­cial said there was lit­tle more the govern­ment could do.

“We can only do this much, and now we will have to wait for rains to clean the at­mos­phere,” said Prashant Gar­gava, an of­fi­cial at the Cen­tral Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board, a fed­eral body.

Mr Gar­gava, who is in-charge of mon­i­tor­ing air qual­ity, said Delhi’s air has been con­sis­tently in the “haz­ardous” zone, de­spite mea­sures such as a halt to con­struc­tion and in­creas­ing car park­ing charges four-fold to en­cour­age peo­ple to use pub­lic trans­porta­tion.

The PM 2.5 air­borne par­ti­cles are about 30 times finer than a hu­man hair.

The par­ti­cles can be in­haled deep into the lungs, caus­ing res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases and other ail­ments.

Hospi­tals in the cap­i­tal have seen a spike in the num­ber of pa­tients com­ing in with res­pi­ra­tory com­plaints, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports.

“Every sec­ond we are dam­ag­ing our lungs, but we can­not stop breath­ing,” said Arvind Ku­mar, the head of the chest and lung surgery de­part­ment at the Sir Ganga Ram hos­pi­tal in the city.

State and fed­eral gov­ern­ments de­cided to re­open schools on Mon­day af­ter clos­ing them tem­po­rar­ily for a few days last week.

The move, how­ever, is likely to add more ve­hi­cles on the road. En­force­ment agen­cies said they were also un­able to im­pose a blan­ket ban on move­ment of com­mer­cial trucks.

Aarti Menon, a teacher at a pri­mary school in New Delhi, said her fam­ily was wear­ing mask even when they were in­doors dur­ing the week­end.

“Not ev­ery­one can af­ford an air pu­ri­fier or air-con­di­tioned car. We are all liv­ing in hell,” said Menon, a mother of two teenage daugh­ters.

The Na­tional Green Tri­bunal, an en­vi­ron­ment court, has di­rected the Delhi govern­ment and neigh­bour­ing states to stop farm­ers from burn­ing crop residue. But the fed­eral and state gov­ern­ments have not been able to do so yet.

A New Delhi-based non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion, Tara Homes for Chil­dren, which sup­ports 60 poor chil­dren, said it was seek­ing do­na­tions to buy at least five air pu­ri­fiers.

“Some of the chil­dren have breath­ing is­sues and couldn’t go to school,” said a vol­un­teer at the NGO.

REUTERS

A man and his daugh­ter wear pol­lu­tion masks as they wait for the school bus in the morn­ing smog in New Delhi, In­dia, yes­ter­day.

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