NEW DELHI — Air pollution in India’s capital city is a perennial concern, but the onset of winter makes people scramble for ways to protect themselves from a spike in environmental toxicity.
Anti-pollution masks and air purifiers are seen as essential for surviving in Delhi’s winter.
It becomes a health hazard to jog, cycle or do any outdoor sport activity.
Children, old people and women are most at risk from respiratory problems resulting from the foul air.
The Delhi state government on Friday ordered schools to close until Nov 5 due to alarming levels of pollutants in the environment.
Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal blamed post-harvest stubble burning by farmers in the neighboring states for contributing to the problem.
Authorities also banned construction activity for five days.
There has been a sharp deterioration in the quality of air since Sunday due to fireworks sets off by people celebrating the festival of Diwali (Deepavali), with hospitals reporting an increase in the number of patients with respiratory problems.
“We see this spike every year after Diwali. People come in with their symptoms worsening as the pollution levels increase. However, what is more concerning, is healthy people coming in with upper respiratory tract allergies and allergic coughing that refuses to heal,” Karan Madan, assistant professor of pulmonary medicine at the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), told local media.
Closing schools to protect children’s health, cracking down on construction activities that release dust into the atmosphere, restricting private car use, and a ban on burning waste are desperate measures against what has been described as an environmental crisis in Delhi and its neighborhood.
Delhi’s population is about 20 million, but in its proximity are located large urban centres such as Ghaziabad, Gurgaon, Noida and Faridabad.
The combined population of Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) is more than the number of people living in all of Malaysia.
Describing the situation as a public healthy emergency, the Environment Pollution Control Authority on Friday called for strict enforcement of rules against all sources of air pollution.
Vehicles are responsible for about 40 per cent of Delhi’s air pollution, according to a government report.
The illegal burning of straw from paddy crops in Punjab and Haryana is a problem discussed intensely in Indian media, but putting down this menace requires a strong political will as farmers have formidable electoral clout.
Delhi’s air pollution level on Friday afternoon was in the “severe” category at 484 on a scale of 500.
An air quality index (AQI) reading of 0-50 is rated as good, but beyond 500 is considered an emergency situation, which is not unusual for Delhi during winter.