New Delhi launches health emergency warning over chocking smog

Runners take part in the New Delhi 10K Challenge amid heavy smog on November 6, 2016 ©Dominique Faget (AFP)
Runners take part in the New Delhi 10K Challenge amid heavy smog on November 6, 2016 ©Dominique Faget (AFP)

Authorities in Delhi on Monday closed schools, halted construction work and shut down a major power plant after days of choking smog led to warnings of a health “emergency” in the world’s most polluted capital.

Pollution levels have spiked in recent days as farmers in neighbouring Indian states burn crop stubble after the harvest and temperatures cool, trapping pollutants in a smoggy haze over the city.

Delhi’s air quality generally worsens with the onset of autumn, particularly after the Diwali festival when millions of revellers let off heavily polluting firecrackers.

But this year’s change has been particularly dramatic, with the American embassy reporting hazardous pollution levels for several days running.

On Monday morning it put levels of PM2.5—the fine particles linked to higher rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease—at an off-the-charts 778.

Levels between 301 and 500 are classified as “hazardous”, meaning everyone faces a risk of respiratory effects and should stay indoors, while levels above 500 are beyond the official index.

Manan Mahato, who drives an auto rickshaw in Delhi, said he had sent his children to his native village because he was worried about their health.

“It has become risky to stay in Delhi because of the pollution,” he said, holding a handkerchief over his mouth because he cannot afford a proper face mask.

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