India’s capital New Delhi was enveloped in heavy, toxic smog yesterday -- the worst levels in recent years -- with flights diverted or delayed as politicians blamed each other for failing to tackle the crisis.
Every winter, the megacity of 20 million people is blanketed by a poisonous smog of car fumes, industrial emissions and smoke from stubble burning at farms in neighbouring states.
Air pollution levels bordered on the “severe plus” threshold for the capital yesterday.
Concentrations of particles measuring less than 2.5 microns hit the highest level of this season, exacerbated by light rains late Saturday, India’s state-run System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) said.
The reading for pollutants in the atmosphere hit 810 micrograms per cubic metre yesterday morning, beyond the “hazardous” zone according to the US embassy in Delhi, which independently monitors pollution levels.
The recommended World Health Organisation safe daily maximum is 25.
“Pollution has reached unbearable levels,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted yesterday.
Visibility was so poor that major carriers Air India and Vistara said yesterday flights were being delayed or diverted to and from Delhi’s airports.
“It’s actually scary -- you can’t see things in front of you,” protester Jaivipra told AFP at a rally in Delhi yesterday calling for politicians to do more to curb pollution.
Nurses at the demonstration said they were seeing more people suffering from respiratory problems.
Patients are coming with more lung and respiratory diseases, like more (are) affected with asthma, sources at hospitals said.
The conditions sparked a blame game between state and federal politicians over who was responsible for the conditions, which authorities said Friday reached “emergency” levels.
In a tweet last week, Kejriwal called on the state governments of neighbouring Punjab and Haryana to take action.
“Delhi has turned into a gas chamber due to smoke from crop burning in neighbouring states,” he tweeted.
Schools in Delhi have already been ordered closed until Tuesday, and construction halted from Monday there will be an odd/even car licence plate scheme to cut traffic.