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New Delhi is on lockdown due to pollution

India’s Supreme Court has recently called for a citywide lockdown in the capital city New Delhi. While the city has already become accustomed to recent lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this time the culprit is not the coronavirus, but air pollution.

After being off the charts in some areas last week, with values even four times higher than the safe limit, this week’s Air Quality Index increased slightly, being in the low 400s on a 500-point scale.

“After COVID, pollution has emerged as a major threat for public health particularly for children and senior citizens,” declared Ashok Agarwal, national president of All India Parents’ Association.

“We are getting 12-14 patients daily in the emergency room, mostly at night, when the symptoms cause disturbed sleep and panic,” added Dr. Suranjit Chatterjee from Apollo Hospitals.

At a hearing this Monday, Indian officials ordered authorities to stop all nonessential travel on the roads in New Delhi, and close the schools and most offices in the area, shifting tens of millions of people to work from home. 

Delhi’s chief minister said that although he is willing to impose a pollution-related strict lockdown, such measures will have a minimal effect if neighboring states, such as Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, will not impose similar restrictions. The officials from these states are currently meeting to discuss possible measures they could implement to mitigate this situation.

Although Indian farmers have often been blamed for exacerbating this country’s chronic pollution problem, government officials told the Supreme Court that crop-burning amounts to only about ten percent of the emissions. The larger part of the fault seems to lie in the emissions caused by factories, vehicles, and dust from constructions sites.

With over a million deaths per year caused by pollution, India should take urgent measures to curb its emissions. At the recent COP26 climate summit, the country pledged to “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal emissions, and to reach a net-zero emissions scenario only by 2070 – 20 years after the United States and Europe, and ten years after China.

According to COP26 president Alok Sharma, such measures might be insufficient for ensuring India’s – and our planet’s – current and future safety.  

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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