Delhi, India faces massive public health crisis due to poor air quality

Photo courtesy of Rajat Gupta/EPA.

By Anna Synakh || Copy Editor

In the past week the air pollution in multiple cities in India reached record breaking levels. The smog has taken over large areas of the country, oftentimes so thick that even the grandest of monuments cannot be seen. Due to the dangerous conditions outside, the government of the city of Delhi has declared a state of emergency, canceled flights, shut down schools and banned private vehicles from driving. Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s Chief Minister went as far as calling the city a “gas chamber” in a tweet posted on November 1, 2019.

Delhi, and India as a whole, usually experience such increases in air pollution around November. Yet, this year the levels of pollution broke the record. The main causes of this yearly climate decline are emissions from vehicles, crop burning and industrial pollution. While these factors are in effect year round, during the months of October and November, the temperatures start to cool and winds slow down; therefore, the smog stays for longer periods of time.

Crop burning, unlike the other causes of pollution, is at its worst during this time period as harvest season is wrapping up. While crop burning has previously been banned, farmers say they have no choice but to break the law. Many farmers in states north of Delhi are therefore burning the leftover crops, in order to prepare for the winter harvest season, which approaches soon after the fall season. According to the farmers, they cannot afford to avoid crop burning as the fields will not be ready in time for the next season. As many farmers are engaging in crop burning all at once, its effects on air pollution are always rather sudden, and prominent. 

The main concern with crop burning is the chemicals which are released in the process, and get trapped in the air. The smog produced consists of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and methane along with fine particulate matter. Constant inhalation of these substances has proved to severely damage human health, and even cause death in the case of prolonged exposure.

While crop burning is the main reason behind the intensification of the issue at this time, India’s air pollution is also dependent on the low standards of vehicles of transportation. Mopeds and motorcycles crowd the cities, and release more greenhouse gases than cars, as they are often times older and oftentimes have incomplete combustion. 

In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Siddharth Singh, an author writing about India’s pollution problem, stated that at this point the issue has too many variables affecting it. In his opinion due to anarchy of environmental movement in India, it is impossible to focus on the main issues at hand without the government turning this into a conversation about the economy. India depends on its farm industries and on its factories, both of which have high effects on the environment, therefore until a central agency that controls all things environment is created in India, the air pollution will keep getting worse yearly.

Sophomore Anna Synakh is a copy editor. Her email is asynakh@fandm.edu.

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