It doesn’t get a great deal of press here, given our media’s mandate to cover urgent issues like overfeeding koi, but India is in the midst of an air pollution alert. From Reuters:
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Delhi’s government on Wednesday ordered schools shut for the rest of the week as air pollution worsened and criticism mounted over the failure of authorities to tackle the public health crisis.
Thick smog swathed Delhi, where pollution readings in some places peaked at 500, the most severe level on the government’s air quality index that measures poisonous particles.
“The air quality in Delhi is deteriorating. We cannot compromise with the health of children at this stage,” said Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, ordering the closure until Sunday.
The Delhi administration, which described the city as a “gas chamber”, had previously ordered schools for young children to close only for Wednesday.
India’s health ministry also advised people with breathing problems and children to remain indoors.
It’s being characterized as the “worst pollution in twenty years”. The editors of Economic Times declaim:
Delhi has declared a public emergency, on account of poor air quality. It is not just the national capital that suffers from noxious air, filled, in particular, with particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter. Many cities in India are similarly placed. Air pollution causes cancer, lung disease and heart attacks. It is a public health risk that lowers the quality of life and productivity. This much is obvious. What must be also taken into account is that sustained poor quality of the air one has to breathe is a sharply negative factor, for drawing in investment. Which investor in his right senses wants to set up shop in a place where people are guaranteed to turn sickly and only the desperate would take up jobs?
Many Chinese cities suffer high levels of pollution as well. However, the Chinese suffer pollution because of high levels of industrial output. Most pollutants there are industrial effluents. In Indian cities, it is not industrial activity sans regulation that is the primary culprit, by and large. Badly maintained vehicles on badly planned and congested roads, irresponsible burning of trash by citizens and construction dust account for a large part of the problem. In Delhi, the burning of crop stubble in distant Punjab fields is a source of Particulate Matter 2.5, as the wind wafts the smoke into the capital region. Unstable power grids in and around Delhi force people to depend on diesel generators for extended hours of electricity supply.
While it is straightforward to require power plants to use beneficiated coal and deploy catalytic converters to reduce and trap particulate matter, when it comes to regulating the conduct of citizens, things become more complex. They must be educated as to the dangers of pollution and learn to cooperate, whether on fire crackers or burning trash.
Of the world’s 20 cities with the worst air pollution, 13 are Indian. Most of the rest are Chinese. India’s per capita carbon emissions are still quite low but if they even reach Chinese levels it will be disastrous.