Pedestrians cross a street as the city is engulfed in heavy smog at Rajpath, in New Delhi, India, 02 November 2023. EFE-EPA/RAJAT GUPTA

Indian capital battles dangerous levels of air pollution, schools closed

New Delhi, Nov 2 (EFE).- The Indian capital was once again shrouded in a thick layer of pollution on Thursday, with poor air quality levels considered harmful to health, a grim annual occurrence during this season in northern India.

People drive in the city engulfed in heavy smog, New Delhi, India, 02 November 2023. EFE-EPA/HARISH TYAGI

Despite the imminent threats to human health posed by air pollution, authorities have struggled to effectively mitigate the problem due to a lack of robust measures.

An Indian man wearing a facemask walks as the city is engulfed in heavy smog near Rajpath, in New Delhi, India, 02 November 2023. EFE-EPA/RAJAT GUPTA

On Thursday, the eastern Anand Vihar neighborhood of the capital recorded high levels of PM 2.5 (ultra-fine particulate pollutants) at 432 micrograms per cubic meter of air, as well as PM10 at 429.

The pollution levels are significantly higher than the World Health Organization’s safe limits.

The WHO recommends that annual average PM2.5 concentrations not exceed 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air and that 24-hour average exposures not exceed 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air more than 3-4 days per year.

The city government of Delhi has decided to close schools for the next two days.

“In light of the rising pollution levels, all government and private primary schools in Delhi will remain closed for the next two days,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted.

According to studies like the University of Chicago’s Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), such high levels of air pollution could reduce Indian citizens’ life expectancy by an average of five years.

In response to this critical situation, Indian authorities have started implementing mitigating measures in certain parts of the country.

On Wednesday, Delhi’s Environment Minister, Gopal Rai, announced restrictions on the operation of gasoline-powered public buses and construction activities in the most polluted areas, as part of a plan to gradually implement more mitigating measures as air pollution worsens.

The country’s major events have been impacted by the deteriorating air quality, with the cricket governing body canceling fireworks displays in New Delhi and Mumbai due to air pollution concerns during the ongoing Cricket World Cup.

However, these measures are viewed as merely reactive responses to a recurring problem, air quality expert Sunil Dahiya told EFE, who works with the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

“What we need is a much faster and more efficient implementation of measures to cut down emission loads at the source. For example, the transformation of the public transportation system is needed,” he said.

He pointed out that neighboring cities continue to contribute to the pollution problem, with a new coal power plant located less than 70 kilometers from the capital and most city power plants failing to comply with emission reduction directives.

The burning of rice stubble in neighboring states further exacerbates the pollution peak.

“The attitude of the system, the policymakers, or the regulators… has not been very efficient and has not been at the scale of the problem we are facing,” he said. EFE