‘Hazardous’ smog chokes New Delhi

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Smog hit “hazardous” levels in New Delhi on Friday as smoke from thousands of crop fires in northern India combined with other pollutants to create a noxious grey cocktail enveloping the megacity.

Levels of the most dangerous particles — PM2.5, so tiny they can enter the bloodstream — were 588 per cubic metre early on Thursday morn-ing, according to monitoring firm IQAir.

That is almost 40 times the daily maximum rec-ommended by the World Health Organisation. IQAir rated overall pollution levels as “hazardous”.

“This is really the worst time to be out in Delhi. One never wakes up fresh with this pollution,” po-liceman Hem Raj, 42, said.

“The body feels tired and lethargic in the morn-ing… The eyes are always watery and throat scratchy after spending hours on Delhi’s roads,” he said.

Stinging eyes, an unrelenting cough and chronic lung disease have taken their toll on Bhajan Lal, an auto rickshaw driver navigating the Indian capital’s chaotic roads and poisonous air.

For the last three decades, Lal carted passengers along bumpy thoroughfares to temples, markets and offices in New Delhi, working every day through the winter months when a pall of toxic smog settles over the sprawling megacity.

“The pollution causes a lot of problems for my throat,” the 58-year-old told AFP, after a morning spent in the driver’s seat of his motorised three-wheeler.

“My eyes sting… My lungs are affected, which creates breathing problems. Mucus builds up and collects in my chest.” Delhi is consistently ranked the world’s worst capital for air quality and on its most polluted days the smog can cut visibility on the roads to barely 50 metres.

Levels of PM2.5 pollutants — the microparticles most harmful to human health, which can enter the bloodstream through the lungs — last week reached more than 30 times the maximum daily limit rec-ommended by the World Health Organization.

“I feel so sorry looking at children and their health,” said Lal. “They are already getting sick.” Lal’s business suffers and he sometimes drives around the streets for an entire day without finding passengers, who prefer paying extra to sit through their commutes inside a cab.

Every winter, cooler air, smoke from farmers burning stubble, and emissions from vehicles and other sources combine to create a deadly smog re-ducing visibility in the city of 20 million people.—AFP

 

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