Weekends are meant for relaxed hangouts, casual dates and coffee parties. But last weekend was different for Delhiites. Instead of waiting to pay the cashier at Starbucks, Delhi dwellers could be found instead lining up at pharmacies buying face masks by the dozen. Or staying indoors trying to catch a normal breath. That has been the gravity of the air pollution in Delhi.
An “extreme pollution event”, is what, as described by Gufran Beig, program director at SAFAR (System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research).
A severely dense haze descended upon the city early Sunday morning. Now, haze or fog is a common occurrence in winters. But it is rarely, if ever, a cause of concern. So why was this?
This one was chock full of smoke, dust and potentially fatal particulate matter that considerably reduced visibility and considerably increased the amount of inhaled (reasonably large) particles. The smog has crippled the Capital for nearly a week since Sunday.
What did cause this?
It has been stated that the major contributor to the toxic haze was crop burning in the farm states of Punjab and Haryana. A grey belt was discovered all the way from Islamabad in Pakistan to Gaya in Bihar. With the Air Quality Index (AQI) being “severe” for many of the cities covered.
Politics decided to interrupt and went on to accuse Pakistan of contributing to India’s ghastly air pollution levels. Blaming it on the stubble burning in Islamabad and Lahore.
India has been downwind of the resulting smoke and particles, thanks to Mother Nature. Not really a reason to blame the mortal enemy for our environmental issues.
Let’s consider the fact that Diwali has just come and gone. Let’s go back to how Indians absolutely love fire crackers, and light them up for every occasion imaginable. Thereby conveniently forgetting the major risks of such frivolous luxuries.
Fireworks generously donate largely dangerous levels of smoke and respirable particulate matter (think of the itchy throat and annoying cough you develop as soon as your nose detects the very smell of a burnt cracker) to the atmosphere. These stay for days and lovingly cooperate with already present pollutants to create weather situations as illustrated by the awfully noxious air of Delhi.
Did the government wake up? Oh, yes, it was startled out of its wits.
The first thing it did was to close the city’s schools for a full three days. What it did not mention, however, was how the terrible air was pervading even indoor areas like homes and airports.
It passed a law under which vehicles running on diesel which are more than 15 years old face deregistration.
Along with this, it has also banned the burning of firecrackers in the city, including marriage functions and exempting religious ones. (Where would we be without religion being considered in every decision ever made?)
India is home to several environmental problems, not restricted to the air we breathe or the water we drink. On some, her state governments are working diligently and coming up with impressive results. On others, they are waiting until the issues blow up to the size of American stupidity and then hurry to make amends. If only the latter can be said about America.