“It is no longer safe to breathe in New Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world. The problem has grown steadily worse, but little has been done beyond stopgap measures like allowing cars with odd- or even-numbered license plates to be used only on alternate days.
The city’s high levels of fine particles — the most deadly because they penetrate more deeply into the lungs — have now soared off the charts, even by New Delhi’s standards, because of seasonal smoke from the burning of leftover crops by farmers in nearby states and from firecrackers set off to celebrate the Diwali holiday.
Levels of the smallest particles, called PM 2.5, recently hit an astounding 688 micrograms per cubic meter of air in one New Delhi neighborhood, far surpassing the city’s average annual concentration of 153. Beijing’s average is 56 and New York’s is 14. The World Health Organization sets the healthy average annual limit of these particles at 10 micrograms per cubic meter.
The solutions for seasonal smoke are obvious: Firecrackers should be banned — and those bans enforced. Farmers who cannot afford equipment that allows them to replant without burning leftover stubble need more help. The government now offers to pay some farmers half the cost, but the remaining burden is too great for most to bear. Subsidies and incentives need to be expanded.
India also needs to tackle the year-round pollution that stems from construction and road dust, from millions of vehicles and from factories and power plants. India is home to 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, and, according to Unicef, about 220 million children in South Asia breathe air with at least six times the level of pollution the World Health Organization considers safe.
India’s 1981 Air Act is far too lax and out of date to control the current crisis. Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to propose new legislation that sets stronger standards, with stiff penalties for polluters. He will also need to allocate funds for cleaning up the sources of pollution in cities where millions of people are breathing dirty air.” The New York Times Editorial Board. Read it on delhiair.org.