Delhi suffers toxic smog hangover after Diwali firework frenzy

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NEW DELHI, Nov 8, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Air pollution in New Delhi hit
hazardous levels Thursday after a night of free-for-all Diwali fireworks,
despite Supreme Court efforts to curb the smog-fuelling partying.

Major monuments including the India Gate and Red Fort were hidden by a
toxic haze. Commuters donned masks as visibility on major roads was reduced
to barely 50 metres (160 feet).

Diwali is the biggest Hindu festival of the year, when firecrackers are
traditionally let off.

Ambient air quality in what the World Health Organisation has said is the
world’s most polluted major city touched 595 on Thursday morning, according
to the US embassy in Delhi which independently monitors pollution levels.

Any reading over 300 is considered hazardous and a danger even to healthy
people.

India’s Supreme Court ruled last month that only environmentally friendly
fireworks — that emit less smoke and soot — can be sold in Delhi, in a bid
to cut the smog that has scarred the city’s international reputation.

The court also said firecrackers could only be set off between 8:00 pm and
10:00 pm.

But the capital’s 20 million residents turned a deaf ear to the ruling.
Crackers and rockets reverberated around city neighbourhoods well after
midnight.

– Diwali nightmare –

“For a few moments of enjoyment people are willing to endanger the planet.
It is insane,” Pranav Yadav, a 19-year-old student wearing a pollution mask
told AFP.

“I expected people to show some concern but at this rate it won’t be long
till every child in Delhi has a respiratory disease,” added Yadav as he
headed for a metro train.

Delhi police had vowed to punish violaters of the Supreme Court order but
could not immediately say whether charges had been made.

“Local police stations have registered several complaints, we are trying to
collect all the information,” Delhi police spokesman Anil Mittal told AFP.

Delhi’s air quality typically worsens in winter, due to pollution from the
burning of rice stubble, diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and
industrial emissions.

Levels of PM2.5 — fine particles linked to higher rates of chronic
bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease — have soared since last month
when farmers in Punjab and other nearby states started to burn crop residue.

The US embassy air quality index is a combined measure of poisonous gases
and fine airborne particles. Once the foul air crosses 500, it causes serious
aggravation of heart and lung diseases, with doctors advising residents to
skip outdoor activity.

– Diwali nightmare –

Mustafa Mohammed, a student and cycling enthusiast, said he could feel the
air quality dip drastically as he set out on Thursday to the India Gate in
the heart of the city.

“I regularly cycle around here and what I can (see) today the pollution has
really gone up after Diwali,” he said.

Sunil Dahiya, a senior campaigner with Greenpeace India, said religious
fervour was one of the reasons why people still let off fireworks despite
mounting health concerns.

“They also think the pollution is high all the year round so one day of
festivities is not going to make much of a difference,” he said.

Dahiya called for long-term solutions and mass awareness campaigns instead
of focusing only on a few days in the year.

In 2016, Diwali festivities in Delhi raised pollution levels to their
highest in nearly two decades — forcing the closure of schools and other
emergency measures.

Last month the WHO said exposure to toxic air indoors and out kills some
600,000 children under the age of 15 each year.

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