The air quality index in New Delhi hit levels of PM 2.5. This highlights tiny particulate matter in the air that has deteriorated to above 900. The "severe plus" level is 500.

By Ian Horswill

Posted on November 4, 2019

Air pollution has covered parts of the city of Delhi, India, which has a population of 19 million people, in thick smog and it is not going away immediately.

Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the air pollution had “reached unbearable levels”.

Authorities have urged people to stay inside to protect themselves with schools closed, construction work halted and more than 30 flights diverted.

The air quality index hit levels of PM 2.5. This highlights tiny particulate matter in the air that has deteriorated to above 900. The “severe plus” level is 500.

“Delhi and India more broadly are at the crossroads of a major industrial transition where industry without regard for environmental control continues to pollute and at the same time traditional farming practices continue and these combined create the exceedingly high air pollution,” said Associate Professor Camille Raynes-Greenow, a maternal and child health expert, at the University of Sydney, Australia.

“Pregnant women and children are also extremely vulnerable to the poor air quality in Delhi. The acute respiratory and eye symptoms that many people will experience are only just the tip of the iceberg that will also impact the developing fetus and small children.

“In developing countries like India, we need multi-sectoral approaches that consider both industrial and traditional practices that impact air pollution, and these solutions also need to be multinational.”

Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain advised residents to “avoid outdoor physical activities, especially during morning and late evening hours”.

Jain also said people should wear anti-pollution masks, avoid polluted areas and keep doors and windows closed.

Levels of dangerous particles in the air – known as PM2.5 – are far higher than recommended.

An Indian health ministry official said the city’s pollution monitors did not have enough digits to accurately record pollution levels, which he called a “disaster”, BBC News reported.

Five million masks were handed out in schools on Friday as officials declared a public health emergency. Doctors were reporting an increase in patients with respiratory related issues, according to Sachin Taparia, head of Local Circles, a Delhi-based private consultancy that conducts surveys on government policies and programs, Reuters reported.

“Delhi has turned into a gas chamber as the pollution levels hit the ‘severe+’ category,” Taparia said.

Farmers in neighbouring areas burning crop stubble to clear their land is a leading factor behind the high pollution levels in Delhi at this time of year. This creates a cocktail of particulate matter, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide – all worsened by fireworks set off during the Hindu festival Diwali a week ago.

Vehicle fumes, construction and industrial emissions have also contributed to the smog.

Scattered rain is not expected until Thursday (local time).