Throughout New Delhi schools have closed, peoplpe have stopped driving and at least a tenth of the city’s workforce has called in sick. And it’s not because of a flood, earthquake or tornado—rather, it’s due to record-breaking smog that has engulfed the city for the past week. As Reuters reports, the city is now taking measures to try to lift the air pollution, but these days are literally dark in a city already known for its horrible air quality.
The dangerous smog cloud has been over the city since the Indian festival of Diwali on October 30, and The Hindustan Times reports that a wind phenomenon that blew smoke from Northern India into the city is to blame. Add in holiday firecrackers, the practice of burning the remnants of crops to make way for winter wheat and the large amount of pollutants belched out by vehicles transporting celebrating revelers, and it’s a recipe for choking air pollution.
This year’s combination is especially severe. Popular Science’s Rachel Feltman writes that this week, the city scored a 999 on an air quality index whose top rating is technically a score of 500. That’s more than 16 times the level the Indian government considers safe and more than 30 times the World Health Organization’s safe limits. For individuals who must breathe the air, that means the risk of acute respiratory diseases and higher morbidity levels over time—and as with many health hazards, those with young, old or compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable.
As public outcry increases, Reuters notes, Delhi has begun to take action. Diesel-powered vehicles more than 15 years of age are having their licenses revoked, construction work has stopped and courts have been asked to monitor the implementation of anti-pollution measures. But long-term, the picture doesn’t look good for New Delhi.
A recent World Health Organization report on air pollution found that 98 percent of cities with populations of over 100,000 in low- and middle-income countries do not meet basic air quality standards, including New Delhi. And the city appears to be focusing on short-term solutions instead of a longer-term fix.
Luckily, a burst of wind speed slightly improved conditions on Monday, but until New Delhi looks at the big picture, its smog problems will likely persist. But maybe there’s a hidden, though admittedly minuscule, upside to the slow-moving disaster: The longer Delhi suffers under smog, the more likely it is to draw public ire—and, perhaps one day, action on the part of public officials.