A public health emergency has been declared in the national capital due to the toxic smog choking its residents as the overall air quality index entered the “severe-plus emergency” on Sunday.
On Friday, a Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) ordered a complete ban on construction till 6 am Tuesday. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, on the other hand, ordered all schools in the city remain shut till November 5 and also distributed 50 lakh masks to students.
However, according to the Indian Meteorological Department, there is hope for some respite by Monday with increasing wind speed due to a Western Disturbance.
How is the air quality measured?
According to the Air Quality Index scale, as defined by the US-EPA 2016 standard, an AQI between 0-50 is considered to be “good” while between 51-100 is considered “moderate”. And between 101-150 it is considered “unhealthy for sensitive groups”. The air quality is rated “unhealthy” if it is between 151-200 and “very unhealthy” between 201-300. The AQI is considered to be “hazardous” if it is found above 300.
Similar to last year, Delhi continues to rank first in terms of polluted air among major cities of the world. According to airvisual.com, in 2018, Delhi residents were exposed to more than ten times the safe amount of air pollution on an average day.
Despite wind activity and light rain on Saturday, the overall AQI in the national capital hovered at 466 at 7 am today. The weather department has predicted that Delhi-NCR is likely to experience some strong winds and rain on November 5, bringing some respite from the polluted air.
How severe is the situation in Delhi compared to other countries?
China has been struggling for years to enforce environmental rules and crackdown against polluting industries. A few cities, however, continue to be major offenders. In Hotan, considered to be one of the worst polluters, the AQI was recorded at 349 (hazardous) on Sunday.
Last week, an official from the environment ministry said the pollution situation in the country remains severe with high levels of PM 2.5 in the northern region. Only four of the 28 cities – Beijing, Handan, Cangzhou and Jining – met targets last winter. Beijing was ranked 122 among the most polluted cities in the world last year.
The country’s top steelmaking province of Hebei has issued an “orange smog alert” effective from November 1 as the air quality is expected to touch the “severe” category.
According to airvisual.com, Lahore is also one of the most polluted cities in the world. The smog levels in the city even crossed 550 this time, with experts calling for restrictions on all forms of outdoor activity, Dawn reported. While experts have cautioned against crop burning by neighbouring countries, research also shows that the key sources of pollution are mostly local in nature.
According to UNICEF, wild forest and peatland fires across Kalimantan and Sumatra are putting nearly 10 million children at risk from air pollution. In June, Jakarta recorded the worst air quality in the world, according to airvisual.com. Research from the University of Chicago shows that Jakarta’s air quality is so bad that it is cutting 2.3 years off the average resident’s lifespan.
In May this year, the air quality index ranked Dhaka as the third worst polluted city in the world. Bangladesh’s densely-populated capital has been grappling with air pollution for a long time. Apart from exhaust fumes spewed out by motor vehicles, the pollutants include dust from construction sites and smoke from the brick kiln and factory chimneys.
On Sunday too, the AQI was recorded at 185 (unhealthy). The situation tends to improve in the monsoons.
For several weeks in a row, the city has been covered with a toxic haze of particulate matter — often invisible particles of dust and soot. According to an article titled “Afghanistan’s air is deadlier than its war”, more than 26,000 Afghan deaths could be attributed to air pollution in 2017.
“The root cause is the burning of anything possible to get Afghans the energy and heat they need in harsh winters—including plastic, coal, and rubber. Mixed into that is the use of leaded fuels banned in the West decades ago, as well as waste energy plants and heavy industry,” the report read.