Deterioration of air quality in Delhi in recent days has caused widespread disruption. Junior schools in the city are closed until at least November 12. Doctors are advising city residents to avoid going out, particularly in the early morning and late evening. Meanwhile, Delhiites are buying air purifiers and masks in droves. This is despite doctors’ fears that air masks may not prove an effective enough safeguard against the toxic air.
‘Like smoking fifty cigarettes a day’
In some quarters of the city, pollution levels are so poor they exceed the maximum level measured by the air quality index. The volume of PM 2.5 – carcinogenic fine particulate matter – in the atmosphere across the National Capital Region (NCR) hit 728 on November 7. The following afternoon, levels reached 833. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that exposure at levels above 100 is unhealthy. Exposure above 300 is ‘hazardous.’
Dr Arvind Kumar likens breathing the air in Delhi to smoking fifty cigarettes a day. The head of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), meanwhile, compares the current crisis with the Great Smog of London, an air pollution event which killed more than 4,000 people in 1952.
Health problems are already being reported as a result of the pollution. Difficulty breathing, skin and eye irritation, nausea and fatigue are among the most common complaints. This will get much worse.
At current levels, even those in good health will suffer according to India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Those with pre-existing conditions will witness even more severe impacts.
Among the most polluted cities in the world
Indian cities are among the most polluted in the world. This is at substantial cost to public health across the country.
A study published last month in The Lancet found India accounts for 2.5 million premature pollution-related deaths yearly – more than any other country. A multiplicity of health effects are linked to air pollution, ranging from cardiac and respiratory illness to premature birth.
Delhi is clearly in the throes of an environmental catastrophe that is expected to get worse. Authorities anticipate air quality will deteriorate further in the coming days. If so public health will, as a matter of certainty, decline with it.