▶ Ex­perts say tough reg­u­la­tions can cut smog af­ter In­dian state forced to de­clare state of emer­gency

The National - News - - NEWS | WORLD - DANIEL BARD­S­LEY

Pol­lu­tion-choked Delhi should fol­low the ex­am­ple of Bei­jing to clean up its act.

While New Delhi and In­dia’s other conur­ba­tions re­main blighted by bad air qual­ity, re­searchers are start­ing to see signs of im­prove­ment in some Chi­nese cities.

“We’ve seen the air qual­ity in Bei­jing im­prov­ing. That demon­strates that in­formed reg­u­la­tion can have a pos­i­tive im­pact,” said Prof William Bloss, of the Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham in the UK, who has been study­ing the sources of Delhi’s smog.

Prof Bloss, who has also an­a­lysed air qual­ity in the Chi­nese capital, said: “It’s a prob­lem we can solve. It’s not some­thing we have to live with as the price of developmen­t.”

Delhi was plunged into a state of emer­gency af­ter its air qual­ity dropped to its worst lev­els in three years, caus­ing dozens of flight can­cel­la­tions, school clo­sures and an in­crease in asthma at­tacks.

Tele­vi­sion footage of toxic smog en­velop­ing the city and res­i­dents walk­ing the streets in face masks has shocked the world in re­cent days.

A pub­lic health emer­gency was de­clared on Fri­day and Delhi’s chief min­is­ter, Arvind Ke­jri­wal, said the city had turned into a “gas cham­ber”.

With con­di­tions ex­treme even by the stan­dards of one of the world’s most pol­luted cities, of­fi­cials ad­vised the 46 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in the greater Delhi area to stay at home and to keep their win­dows closed.

Au­thor­i­ties also re­stricted the use of cars by ban­ning ve­hi­cles with reg­is­tra­tion plates end­ing in odd or even num­bers on al­ter­nate days un­til Novem­ber 15.

The con­cen­tra­tion of PM2.5 – par­tic­u­late mat­ter less than 2.5 mi­crome­tres in size – rose to about 900 mi­cro­grammes per cu­bic me­tre this week, far ex­ceed­ing the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s rec­om­mended safe an­nual av­er­age of just 10 mi­cro­grammes per cu­bic me­tre.

Such fine par­ti­cles – so small they are in­vis­i­ble to the naked eye – are emit­ted from a va­ri­ety of sources, in­clud­ing cars, planes, power sta­tions and farm fires. They pose a par­tic­u­lar dan­ger as they hang sus­pended in the air for long pe­ri­ods and are eas­ily in­haled.

Proff Bloss’s re­search project ti­tled “An in­te­grated study of air pol­lu­tant sources in the Delhi na­tional capital re­gion” re­vealed that the city’s pol­lu­tion prob­lems “over­whelm­ingly” re­volve around PM2.5s, con­trast­ing with some western cities where ni­tro­gen diox­ide from

ve­hi­cles ranks as highly as par­tic­u­late mat­ter.

Lo­cal press re­ports cit­ing satel­lite data sug­gested that there were as many as 3,000 farm fires in the neigh­bour­ing In­dian states of Pun­jab and Haryana last week. The fires rage at this time of year be­cause farm­ers burn off stub­ble to al­low a fast turn­around be­tween crops.

State gov­ern­ments have faced sting­ing crit­i­cism for fail­ing to clamp down on the prac­tice, with In­dia’s Supreme Court ac­cus­ing them of “ask­ing

peo­ple to die”. “It is too much. No one is safe even in­side their house,” judges said. “It is atro­cious.”

Pol­lu­tion from within the city, such as traf­fic emis­sions, con­trib­utes “to a lesser ex­tent” to Delhi’s ap­palling air qual­ity, Prof Bloss said, although its ef­fects are still sig­nif­i­cant.

Other sources within the city in­clude solid-fuel burn­ing by house­hold­ers, and the burn­ing of rub­bish, which takes place be­cause waste-dis­posal sys­tems are hope­lessly in­ad­e­quate. The set­ting off of fire­crack­ers to cel­e­brate the Di­wali fes­ti­val, which ended last week, was also blamed for the smog.

“We have to move to clean en­ergy op­tions, but there are an in­fi­nite num­ber of small sources [of pol­lu­tion],” said Prof Sachchida Tri­pathi, of the In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy Kan­pur.

He said solid fu­els should be re­placed with liq­ue­fied petroleum gas, while flue-gas desul­phuri­sa­tion should be in­tro­duced at power sta­tions to re­duce sul­phur diox­ide emis­sions, which are higher in In­dia than any­where else in the world. To get peo­ple off the roads, ex­perts say that pub­lic trans­port in Delhi must im­prove, es­pe­cially as the city grows.

“The pub­lic trans­port [net­work] is not re­li­able enough to trans­port peo­ple from one place to an­other,” said Prof Prashant Ku­mar, from the Univer­sity of Sur­rey in Bri­tain, who is also in­volved in the Delhi air pol­lu­tion re­search project.

“It’s a city that is grow­ing. You can­not keep tak­ing peo­ple in with­out putting in the proper in­fra­struc­ture.”

Delhi’s air pol­lu­tion woes are shared by many In­dian cities, with a sur­vey re­leased this year by the en­vi­ron­men­tal group Green­peace show­ing that the coun­try con­tains 22 of the world’s 30 most pol­luted cities. Delhi is the most pol­luted world capital and the 11th most pol­luted city over­all.

In to­tal, 99 per cent of cities in south Asia re­port­edly ex­ceed the WHO’s rec­om­mended limit for PM2.5, and all Mid­dle East­ern and African cities in the sur­vey breach the limit.

Glob­ally, as many as seven mil­lion peo­ple are thought to die each year be­cause of the health ef­fects of poor air, which in­clude can­cer, heart dis­ease and res­pi­ra­tory con­di­tions.


Tourists at the Taj Ma­hal in Agra, near Delhi. Lev­els of par­tic­u­late mat­ter were 90 times above lev­els deemed safe by the WHO, forc­ing many to wear face masks

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