Delhi applies emergency measures over toxic air pollution

Indian women wear pollution masks at a protest against air pollution in New Delhi CREDIT: AP/Manish Swarup
Indian women wear pollution masks at a protest against air pollution in New Delhi CREDIT: AP/Manish Swarup

For a week the city has been covered in smoke thanks to Diwali celebrations.

A week after millions in New Delhi celebrated a major Hindu festival with fireworks that shrouded in smoke the already air-polluted city, the government imposed an emergency plan to counter the toxic air.

Construction projects are on hold and schools will be shut for five days, while Indian capital residents were asked to stay indoors as part of the emergency plan the government announced Sunday.

New Delhi, considered one of the top air polluted cities in the world, hit a new low for toxic air this week after India’s Diwali celebration. Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is famous for having major fireworks functions lasting hours.

An Indian girl lights firecrackers as part of Diwali festivities. CREDIT: AP/Rajanish Kakade
An Indian girl lights firecrackers as part of Diwali festivities. CREDIT: AP/Rajanish Kakade

The Associated Press reported that a day after Diwali the air was so dirty residents could taste it. In fact, New Delhi had twice the amount of toxic particulate matter, or PM2.5, as recorded two days before festival. That was equivalent to nearly 10 times more the World Health Organization’s guidelines suggest for human health.

Arvind Kejriwal, New Delhi’s chief minister, called the city a “gas chamber,” according to Reuters. “We all need to cooperate and work together to find a solution,” he said. “The situation is such that we need to take some urgent measures.”

The use of all diesel- electricity generators will also be banned for the next 10 days and the governmetn will vacuum roads and sprinkling them with water to keep dust pollution down.

Indians walk to work as Delhi traffic police officers manage an intersection enveloped by smoke and smog, on the morning following Diwali festival in New Delhi. CREDIT: AP/Manish Swarup
Indians walk to work as Delhi traffic police officers manage an intersection enveloped by smoke and smog, on the morning following Diwali festival in New Delhi. CREDIT: AP/Manish Swarup

Meanwhile, hundreds took to the street Sunday to protest the worsening air quality. “The public needs to be aware that our children are suffering, we are all suffering. Our children can’t go out there and climb trees, we make large parks for the children to play in our schools, but we can’t send them out,” a protester told Euronews.

New Delhi, like many other megacities, has been suffering with dangerous air pollution levels in recent months as its agricultural burning, its trash fires, and the city’s transportation is putting greenhouse gases that dirty the air and exacerbate climate change.

Various cities in Asia, Europe and Latin America have in the last year imposed emergency measures to address the growing pollution. Paris, Beijing, Mexico City, and New Delhi, have for instance, all been placing policies to disincentize driving.

According to one advocacy group, government data shows that the smog that enveloped the city midweek was the worst in the last 17 years. CREDIT: AP/Manish Swarup
According to one advocacy group, government data shows that the smog that enveloped the city midweek was the worst in the last 17 years. CREDIT: AP/Manish Swarup

About 5.5 million people prematurely died in 2013 because of indoor and outdoor air pollution, according to the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study.

Air pollution causes more deaths than malnutrition, obesity, alcohol and drug abuse, and unsafe sex, according to the study released earlier this year.

The World Health Organization estimates that 2.1 million deaths could be prevented each year, across all age groups, by meeting global air quality guidelines for PM2.5.