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Toxic smog shrouding New Delhi draws attention

Toxic smog shrouding the Indian capital draws attention

Gulf News

The worsening air quality in New Delhi, the capital of India, exacerbated by the burning fields in nearby states, has remained the focus of global media this week.

The Hindu called for addressing the problem in the right earnest. In a trenchant editorial, the paper noted, “Delhi’s air quality deteriorates with unfailing regularity at this time of the year, with large swathes of north India in the grip of a suffocating smog, but the State governments that can make it easier for millions to breathe do not act with any sense of urgency. That it has turned into a public health emergency in the capital, with the air quality index touching extremely hazardous levels in some parts, necessitating the closure of primary schools, has further lowered its standing. It is unconscionable for governments, through indifference and inaction, to subject citizens to such toxic air, and cause extreme suffering especially among people with respiratory ailments and impaired lung function. The smog that envelops the region is exacerbated by the burning of biomass in Punjab and Haryana, and the winter atmosphere is marked by weak ventilation. An analysis of local sources point to construction dust, vehicular pollution, and domestic and industrial emissions as other major factors. A comprehensive solution demands that the governments of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, assisted by the Centre, address farm residue burning and construction dust.”

The BBC highlighted the problems facing India’s efforts to fight pollution. “Delhi’s poisonous air is hurting children. They and the elderly are, of course, among the worst hit. Children’s lungs are usually weak and can easily suffer damage. A 2015 study suggested that four out of every 10 children in the capital suffered from “severe lung problems”. Doctors say they should mostly stay indoors. A new study on the impact of air pollution on life expectancy by Michael Greenstone, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, has found people in Delhi could live six years longer if India just met its national PM2.5 standards of 40 micrograms per cubic metre. They could live nine years longer if the country met the World Health Organisation standard, which is 10 micrograms per cubic metre. That is a most damning indictment of India’s efforts to tackle air pollution.”

Calling smog a perennial problem in India, particularly in the capital region, the Time magazine noted, “This time last year, New Delhi was engulfed in pollution that closed schools and made it difficult to tell the colour of some traffic lights. Though the air quality has been deteriorating in the capital for years, the 2016 haze was the most severe in decades. This year’s could rival it. Nearly off-the-charts-bad. The Air Quality Index (AQI), a gauge for measuring the level of pollutants air contains, reached an alarming level of 833 (in the Indian capital recently), according to the US. Embassy in Delhi. The mission warned of “hazardous” levels of PM2.5 — ultra fine particles that can carry carcinogens such as arsenic and mercury and are small enough to permeate most of the body’s defensive filters.”

Hindustan Times advocated the need for a permanent solution. The paper opined, “Year after year, during the crisis itself, the people in charge of finding a solution seem to be in search of a magic cure, a button they can press to solve the problem. The approach isn’t entirely unexpected in a country where people are obsessed with the instantaneousness of technology but don’t have the patience to understand the science behind it. This is clearly not a problem that can be solved by simply asking some factories to close or taking cars off the road. Nor is closing schools and offices the answer. Those are mitigation measures that may provide temporary relief. What Delhi needs is a permanent solution. And that’s possible only with partnerships, political will, and, above all, a better understanding (based on scientific research) of the problem. Otherwise all we will be left with are the same words.”