India’s New Delhi engulfed by ‘hazardous’ air pollution, forcing schools to close

People in New Delhi woke up to a thick layer of toxic haze on Friday, as schools were shut across India’s capital.

A noxious grey smog engulfed the megacity as the air quality index (AQI) entered the “severe” category and made life miserable for its 30 million inhabitants.

Smoke from farmers burning crop stubble, vehicle exhaust and factory emissions combine every winter to blanket the capital in a deadly haze.

On Friday, levels of the most dangerous PM2.5 particles – so tiny they can enter the bloodstream – were almost 35 times the daily maximum recommended by the World Health Organization, according to monitoring firm IQAir.

“In light of the rising pollution levels, all govt and private primary schools in Delhi will remain closed for the next 2 days,” chief minister Arvind Kejriwal wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

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Residents on Friday complained of irritation in the eyes and itchy throats with the air turning a dense grey as the AQI hovered around 480 in some monitoring stations in the city.

An AQI of 0-50 is considered good, while anything between 400-500 affects healthy people and is a danger to those with existing diseases.

New Delhi topped a real-time list on Friday of the world’s most polluted cities compiled by Swiss group IQAir which put the India’s capital’s AQI at 611 in the “hazardous” category.

“Unfavourable meteorological conditions, sudden increase in the farm fire incidents and northwesterly winds moving the pollutants to Delhi are the major causes for sudden spike in AQI,” the region’s Commission for Air Quality Management said on Thursday.


Heavy smog descends on India, leaving residents struggling to breathe

Heavy smog descends on India, leaving residents struggling to breathe

Some suppliers of air purifier filters in the region said there was a shortage as demand had suddenly spiked.

This year, attention on the worsening air quality has cast a shadow over the cricket World Cup hosted by India, with financial capital Mumbai also suffering from a spike in the pollution levels.

Delhi hosts a World Cup match next on Monday between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Last year, Bhiwadi in northern India was the country’s most polluted city and third in the world, according to IQAir. New Delhi was fourth while Pakistan’s Lahore and China’s Hotan topped the list.

A Lancet study in 2020 attributed 1.67 million deaths to air pollution in India during the previous year, including almost 17,500 in the capital.

And the average city resident could die nearly 12 years earlier than expected due to air pollution, according to an August report by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute.

India is heavily reliant on polluting coal for energy generation. Its per capita coal emissions have risen 29 per cent in the past seven years and it has shied away from policies to phase down the dirty fossil fuel.

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