8 Nov 2017

Pollution triggers public health emergency in Delhi

1:02 pm on 8 November 2017

The Indian capital, Delhi, has been enveloped in a blanket of thick grey smog, prompting a public health warning for the city.

An Indian woman walks on a road during heavy smog conditions in New Delhi.

An Indian woman walks on a road during heavy smog conditions in New Delhi. Photo: AFP

Millions of inhabitants in the city have been advised to stay indoors and refrain from physical exertion.

Delhi, one of the world's most polluted cities, is home to more than 11 million people.

Visibility is poor as pollution levels reached 30 times the World Health Organization's recommended limit in some areas.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) declared "a state of medical emergency" and urged the government to "make every possible effort to curb this menace".

Smog covers India Gate war memorial in New Delhi.

Smog covers India Gate war memorial in New Delhi. Photo: AFP

Air pollution measures are so high they are more than twice the level at which emergency health warnings are normally triggered. Measures of PM2.5 - airborne particles - peaked at more than 750. A measure of 300 is the threshold for air pollution warnings.

At levels over 300, entire populations can be affected. People with heart disease, respiratory problems and cardiopulmonary conditions are at risk of serious aggravation while there is a risk of respiratory effects for the general population.

People have been posting dramatic pictures on social media showing the extent of the problem.

The levels of tiny particulate matter (PM2.5) that enter deep into the lungs reached as high as 700 micrograms per cubic metre in some areas on Tuesday, data from the System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research website shows.

The IMA has also recommended that the city's half marathon, due to be held on 19 November, should be cancelled.

Most social media users have complained of breathing difficulties.

The chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, asked his education minister to consider shutting down schools for a few days.

Delhi sees pollution levels soar in winter due to farmers in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana states burning stubble to clear their fields.

Activists say very little has been done to stop the practice despite Delhi facing severe pollution for a number of years.

Light winds, dust from construction sites, rubbish burning in the capital and firecrackers used in festivals also contribute to increasing pollution levels.

The government enacted a plan in October to combat some of these problems. The plan includes traffic restrictions and the shutdown of a major power plant. Last year car rationing was trialled in an attempt to curb pollution.

But none of the measures seem to have had much impact.

- BBC / RNZ

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