For days, New Delhi has been blanketed in what looks like a heavy fog.
Lack of visibility has forced the local government to restrict traffic, close schools, halt construction projects, and delay flights.
The fog is actually air pollution, the severity of which has been compared to smoking 44 cigarettes in one day. PM 2.5 levels are as high as 969. According to the World Health Organization, anything above 25 is considered unsafe.
These readings refer to tiny particles in the air that, when inhaled, can cause serious health problems. Doctors have already seen an influx of patients complaining of chest pains, burning eyes, and trouble breathing.
“The situation as it exists today is the worst that I have seen in my 35 years staying in the city of Delhi,” says Arvind Kumar, a local surgeon. “If you want to protect people, we should be ordering the evacuation of Delhi.”
The government is scrambling to enact emergency measures, but it might already be too late for locals who have been breathing the air. New policies include a ban on the sale of fireworks, a ban on private electricity generators during winter months, and the shut down of all power plants in the wider Delhi region.
What the city has been unable to do is to instill public concern regarding pollution.
“What we’re unable to do as a community-at-large, and that also holds true for the government, is we’ve been unable to sustain interest beyond the three months of winter,” says Santosh Harish, assistant director of the EPIC India research center.
Air pollution is nothing new for the 22 million residents of New Delhi, which was named “world’s most polluted city” in 2014.
Some scientists have blamed this season’s unusually severe smog on a lack of wind and a change in humidity levels. New Delhi sits in a natural bowl that is surrounded by agricultural hubs.
The popular practice of burning crops to clear fields sends waves of smoke and pollution into the city. Other key factors include vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, road dust, and the burning of biomass. According to government reports, there are over 10 million vehicles in the capital city.
“Delhi has become a gas chamber,” complains Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. “Every year this happens during this part of year. We have to find a solution to crop burning in adjoining states.”
Editor’s note: This isn’t just Dehli, this is a great many of the industrialized cities in the third world. Especially in India and China.
This will get worse before it gets better and it could seriously affect how capital moves and where factories are located across the developing world.