NEW DELHI doctors declared a “public health emergency” in the city yesterday as air pollution reached dangerous levels.
The thick smog was reportedly as bad for people’s health as smoking at least 50 cigarettes in a single day.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal likened the city to a “gas chamber” and asked the capital’s education department to consider shutting schools.
Government air quality readings hovered between 350 and 450 throughout the day — rated as “severe.” The top of the scale is 500.
The pollutants that had the most effect were small particles known as PM2.5 and PM10, which can settle in the lungs and cause serious health problems.
Such pollution comes from burning — in New Dehli’s case from coal-fired power plants, crop-burning in neighbouring
provinces, car exhaust fumes, factory emissions and refuse fires used to provide heat.
The Indian Medical Association said New Delhi was in the midst of a “public health emergency” and appealed to the city government to halt sport and other outdoor activities in schools.
The association also said the Delhi Half Marathon, scheduled for November 19, was likely to leave those participating especially badly affected because the air quality is worst during the early part of the day, when the run takes place.
The sharp drop in air quality is most dangerous for the elderly, children and those already suffering from breathing problems. Constant exposure to pollution also reduces lung function in healthy adults.
According to a recent report by the Lancet medical journal on the effects of pollution across the world, one in every four premature deaths in India in 2015 — 2.5 million — was attributed to pollution.
The country’s pollution also poses a global problem — of the most-polluting nations, only India’s carbon emissions are rising.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to give all Indians access to electricity by the end of next year. But if this is achieved through coal-fired power plants, it will jeopardise not only Indians’ health but the world’s chance of limiting global warming to 2°C.