Public health emergency in New Delhi as air pollution hits worst level this year
Authorities in New Delhi declared a public health emergency and closed schools and all construction work until next week as air pollution in the Indian capital hit its worst level this year.
A thick haze hung over the city last week, caused by toxic smoke from farm fires raging in neighbouring states.
An index measuring the level of a deadly air pollutant hit 484 on a scale of 500 on Friday.
The government’s Central Pollution Control Board said it was the worst this year.
The index measures the level of PM 2.5, tiny particulate matter that goes deep into the lungs. Anything above 400 poses a risk for people with respiratory illnesses and can also affect even those with healthy lungs.
Some companies advised employees to avoid exposure to toxic air and work from home.
The Environment Pollution Control Authority, which is leading the effort to tackle pollution in the capital, said: “We have to take this as a public health emergency as air pollution is now hazardous and will have [an] adverse health impact on all, but particularly our children.”
It banned all construction work in the sprawling city of 20 million people and its neighbouring cities until November 5.
Each year, farmers in the states of Punjab and Haryana burn crop residue to prepare for the planting season, ignoring government warnings.
Government-run monitor Safar said satellite pictures captured nearly 3,200 incidents of crop residue burning on Thursday in Haryana and Punjab, which contributed to 44 per cent of the city’s pollution.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal offered free masks on Friday and ordered schools to remain closed until Tuesday.
The toxic air left several Bangladeshi cricket players with sore throats and itchy eyes before their Twenty20 match against India today. “Government knew an emergency situation was approaching and did not take substantive steps on stubble burning or big industrial polluting sources,” said Sunil Dahiya, an energy and air pollution analyst at Greenpeace.
“A public health emergency situation began at least 10 days ago.”
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel urged greater efforts to clean up New Delhi’s toxic air, as she pledged €1 billion (Dh4.09 billion) to help Indian cities switch to “green” urban transport projects over the next five years, including €200 million to replace diesel buses in Tamil Nadu state.
Ms Merkel was exposed to the capital’s air on Friday during a parade in the city with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Neither leader wore masks despite the smog thickening and authorities telling residents to stay indoors to avoid the haze.
Fourteen Indian cities including New Delhi are among the world’s top 15 most polluted cities, a United Nations study said. Smog kills a million Indians prematurely every year.
Free masks were offered by authorities in New Delhi after an index measuring the level of a deadly air pollutant hit 484 on a scale of 500