Air pollution in New Delhi has reached levels that have gone past “severe-plus” on the air quality index. Levels of tiny particulate matter in the air, known as PM 2.5, reached above 900, way over the 500-level that qualifies as the top level on the chart. An Indian health ministry official said the city’s pollution monitors did not have enough digits to accurately record the pollution levels.
Authorities in the capital city have declared a public health emergency. Schools have been closed and all construction activity has been suspended. Rules have gone into effect allowing only cars with odd or even number plates to drive on given days. The smog was so bad more than 30 flights were diverted from the Indira Gandhi international airport in Delhi due to poor visibility. Two airlines, Vistara and Spicejet, diverted flights to Mumbai or Amritsar.
The city’s residents have been advised to avoid outdoor physical activities, wear anti-pollution masks, and keep doors and windows closed. Doctors have been reporting a spike in patients with respiratory-related issues. Anything above 400 on the AQI poses a risk for people with respiratory illness, while also affecting those with healthy lungs. There are about 40 million people living in the capital region.
The government environment monitoring agency SAFAR has said that the seasonal crop stubble burning by farmers in the surrounding states is a main factor in the deteriorating air quality in Delhi. The burning creates a lethal cocktail of particulate matter, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. According to SAFAR, satellite pictures had captured more than 3,000 incidents of stubble burning last week in neighboring states. The burning is believed to be responsible for 44 percent of Delhi’s pollution.