Masks, Polluted Air Are Back in New Delhi

04:29 November 7, 2023

Masks, Polluted Air Are Back in New Delhi

Face coverings, or masks, are back on the streets of New Delhi as residents deal with an increase in air pollution.

The city’s government has ordered primary schools to close this week and polluting vehicles and building projects are banned. A thick cover of smog hangs over New Delhi’s monuments and buildings.

In the Indian capital, officials are struggling to reduce severe air pollution levels. Air pollution in New Delhi is a yearly and continuous health crisis that affects the lives of over 20 million in the city.

On Tuesday, the air quality index came close to the level of 400 for tiny particulate matter. That is a level considered dangerous. It is more than 10 times the level considered safe, said SAFAR, India’s main environmental agency. It is the fifth straight day of bad air in the area.

Officials have released water sprinklers and anti-smog guns to control the pollution. They also announced a fine of $240 for drivers found using gasoline and diesel cars, buses and trucks that create smog. Meanwhile, doctors have advised residents to wear masks and avoid outdoors as much as possible.

Residents like 55-year-old Renu Aggarwal are worried the smog will worsen as Diwali approaches this weekend. The Hindu festival of light includes the lighting of fireworks. Aggarwal said her daughter has a pollen allergy that worsens with pollution.

“She cannot breathe. Even though we keep the doors and windows shut in our home, the pollution still affects her so much that even going to the washroom is difficult for her. And she gets breathless,” she said.

New Delhi tops the list almost every year of many Indian cities with poor air quality. It gets especially bad in the winter when crops are burned in neighboring states and cooler temperatures create smoggy conditions.

Burning the remains of crops at the start of the winter wheat season is an important cause to the pollution in north India. Officials have been trying to prevent farmers from using the method by offering money to buy machines to turn the soil. But the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology says smoke from crop burning still accounts for 25 percent of the pollution in New Delhi.

Respirer Living Sciences is a group that watches air quality and other environmental signs. It said New Delhi saw a sharp 32 percent rise in tiny particles in the air between 2019 and 2020, a decrease of 44 percent in 2021, and a steady increase in 2022 and 2023.

The severe air pollution crisis affects every resident in the city, but the millions who work outdoors are even more at risk.

Gulshan Kumar drives a motorized rickshaw. He said his nose, throat and eyes regularly fill up with dirt in the air.

His children urge him to return to his hometown in Bihar state. “They ask me why I work in this polluted and diseased city,” he said. "If I had had employment back home, I wouldn’t have come to Delhi to work.”

I’m Dan Novak.

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