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People commute on a motor-cart on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India

Delhi under cloud of smog as pollution level jumps sky high

Image credit: Reuters

Air quality in India’s haze-hit north, including the capital of New Delhi, deteriorated sharply on Monday due to an increase in smoke from stubble burning in fields across the region and unfavourable weather.

In most parts of the capital, levels of particulate matter PM2.5, that can reach deep into the lungs and can cause major health problems, were above 400, and in some places had soared above 600.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the recommended level of particulate matter is 25 micrograms per cubic metre on average over a 24-hour period, with records on Monday showing 24 times more than the recommended level.

WHO has previously said New Delhi was ranked the sixth most polluted city in the world.

Following a little improvement on Sunday, when wind picked up, air quality worsened early on Monday, with forecasts of worse to come over the next few days.

“Wind speeds dropped to 15 kilometres per hour from 29 and there’s a significant jump in crop stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana in the past few hours,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at the Centre for Science and Environment think tank, referring to two states where farmers burn stubble in their fields to prepare for winter planting.

Residential buildings are seen shrouded in smog in Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi

Residential buildings are seen shrouded in smog in Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi; Malini Menon

Image credit: Malini Menon

Authorities have warned that crop residue burning will peak in the next few days, with the celebrations of the Diwali Festival on Wednesday raising concerns, as many members of the majority Hindi community will set off celebratory fireworks.

Last month, the Supreme Court allowed the use of “green” firecrackers for Diwali in an attempt to curb pollution; however it was unclear how the rule would be enforced or whether there was such a thing as an environmentally safe firework.

Roychowdhury has also said lower winter temperatures and higher moisture, coupled with lower wind speeds tend to trap pollutants in the atmosphere, coinciding with the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology observing that changes in the speed and direction of the wind, and more stubble burning, had made the air more toxic.

India's presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan is seen shrouded in smog in New Delhi, India

India's presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan is seen shrouded in smog; Anushree Fadnavis

Image credit: Anushree Fadnavis

From last year, the sale of air purifiers had surged 40 per cent because of increasing public awareness about the effects of pollution on health, company and industry officials said.

New Delhi and its satellite cities account for the bulk of air purifier sales but they are picking up in other cities such as Mumbai and Bengaluru, with the air purifier market dominated by Unilever, Blueair, Honeywell International and Britain’s Dyson.

In England, a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) North, which was published in June, suggested that a congestion charge zone should be introduced in the city of Manchester to help with the city’s worst air pollution.

In May, the World Health Organisation unveiled statics regarding the most-polluted town in the UK, but the work was later challenged by experts as figures only considered ultra-fine particles, not nitrogen oxide or carbon monoxide.

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