Toxic smog engulfs India’s New Delhi, prompting lockdowns

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It happens every winter in India’s sprawling capital: cold air rolls in, trapping dust and other pollutants emitted by its 20 million people. The result? A dirty, choking mist that engulfs the city and interrupts daily life.

For the third day of this week, the air quality in the city exceeded the “severe” threshold, reaching 445 on Friday, India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences announced. This figure represents 10 times the target level established in the World Health Organization’s 2021 air quality guidelines, which advise a 24-hour average of 45.

As smog descended on Delhi and its environs, authorities on Friday ordered the closure of schools, factories and construction sites and diesel trucks banned to bring non-essential goods to the capital. About half of city government employees have been asked to work from home.

The WHO estimates that millions of people die each year from air pollution and recognizes it as the greatest environmental health threat in the world. IQAir, a Swiss air quality company, class New Delhi as the most polluted capital in 2021.

Air pollution has been linked to heart disease, a higher risk of stroke and lung cancer, and in 2019 was the leading cause of death in India, according to government data.

Siddharth Singh, author of “The Great Smog of India”, tweeted that, unlike immunity developed from a virus or vaccine, “the human body cannot habituate to air pollution” because “particulate matter gets into your lungs, your blood circulation, then lodges in your organs”.

India’s state and federal governments have been criticized for not tackling the air pollution problem. And as the crisis mounted this week, regional politicians tried to blame each other for the health hazard.

At a press conference on Friday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said Delhi and Punjab should not be blamed for smog, which he called a “north India problem”. .

He said there would be no solution without joint action by the state and the federal government, adding that the six months since the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) formed a government in Punjab were not “not enough” for the government to implement solutions.

India’s Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, however, blamed the northern Punjab state for failing to prevent farmers from burning crop residues, writing on Twitter that “there is no doubt who turned Delhi into a gas chamber”.

In a Twitter In October, Vimlendu Jha, an environmentalist and founder of the youth organization Swechha, said the Delhi government lacked “political will and urgency”.

The central government and the state governments “failed to find a medium to long term solution to this problem”, wrote Jha, “often stopping at blaming the farmers and passing the buck, instead agricultural reforms, crop rotation incentives, technological assistance, etc. ”

The crisis comes as the Indian government on Friday called on wealthy countries to keep their pledge to provide $100 billion in annual climate finance to developing countries – and to increase that amount at the UN climate conference next week.

Masih reported from New Delhi.

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