India: Choked by Smog

OLIVIA AMEZCUA WRITES — The smog that has been polluting New Delhi for decades has reached a new intensity, according to recent reports, with pollution levels 20 times the World Health Organization’s recommended limit. In fact, the New Delhi Air Quality Index hit an all-time high reading of 999.

Last year, New Delhi had already been named the most polluted city on earth. In fact, the polluted air was deemed equivalent to its citizen inhaling a whopping 50 cigarettes a day. This pollution caused airlines to cancel flights, trains to face delays, and cars to crash due to poor visibility.

Multiple factors contribute to the intense levels of smog in India. Among them: construction dust in the National Capital Region (NCR), industrial emissions by both large factories and small industries, vehicular emissions, and firecrackers set off during Diwali celebrations, a Hindu festival of lights, held annually between October to November.

Yet there is one factor that has the largest impact: India’s self-titled Green Revolution (a name that seems ironic at this point). The Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s revolutionized India’s farming practices and governmental policies, but in a way which was actually detrimental to the environment. To end India’s widespread famine,  crop production was prioritized and ecological impacts dismissed.

As a result, New Delhi now suffers what is referred to as the “Great Smog” every winter. This is a  three-month period during which air quality is at its worst due to 23 million tons of crop residue being burnt by more than 2 million farmers nationwide. While there are better methods to deal with the surplus than burning residue, farmers are unable to access the machines to do so because of to their high cost.

(More) Peril for New Delhi:

On November 9, it was reported that New Delhi enacted a three-day ban on industrial trucks due to hazardous levels of air pollution. This effort, though,  was directly blunted by an onslaught of firecrackers set off during the annual Diwali celebration.

On November 12, the homeless population of New Delhi received government-sponsored cotton masks to protect against horrific levels of air pollution. Unfortunately, the masks are useless against certain deadly particles comprising the smog.

On November 13, a campaign platform calling for action against air pollution, called Air A!ert, mounted a piece of public health artwork—artificial lungs, fitted with high power particle trapping filters, in front of the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi —that turned from white to dark brown only after 10 days.

Parents in New Delhi continue to fear sending their children outside due to pollutants that have been measured to contain  an astounding 1,500 particulate matters (PM) per 24 hours —when the WTO’s acceptable pollution level is 25 PM . No wonder: This  causes children to literally gasp for air. Likewise, parents in parts of California fear for their children due to the devastating air pollution caused by recent wildfires; at present, air pollution levels have made these cities the most polluted in the world.

So here’s hoping California gets a grip on its wildfires—and that New Delhi, as well as other highly polluted cities around the world, clear the air—especially when natural disaster isn’t to blame.   

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