Millions of people in India’s capital have started their day choking through “eye-burning” smog, as the city government put restrictions on the number of private vehicles on Delhi roads amid an air pollution crisis. Pollution levels are so high that schools have been shut, flights have been cancelled and a public emergency declared as experts say the air in New Delhi is similar to smoking up to 50 cigarettes a day. “I have a headache every day I wake up. It’s suffocating to breathe sometimes. And inflammation in the nostrils and all. And eyes also. Like it kind of burns,” Ankusha Kushi, a student, told AFP news agency.
As Delhi residents woke up on Monday, levels of particulates measuring less than 2.5 microns – so tiny they enter deep into the respiratory tract – were at 613 micrograms per cubic metre of air, according to the US embassy in Delhi. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended safe daily maximum is a reading of 25.
Air pollution at this level can aggravate heart and lung disease and also poses serious risk to the respiratory systems of the general population.
A poisonous haze envelops New Delhi every winter, caused by vehicle fumes, industrial emissions and smoke from agricultural burning in neighbouring northern states of Punjab and Haryana.
The current crisis – the worst in three years – prompted Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to announce a range of measures to fight what he described as “unbearable pollution”.
Authorities in Delhi have ordered half the city’s private cars to be taken off the road, based on an odd-even registration plate system – a decision many experts said was not enough and “too little, too late”. Delhi’s seven million motorbikes and scooters, public transport and cars carrying only women were exempt from the restrictions.
“There is smoke everywhere and people, including youngsters, kids, elderly are finding it difficult to breathe,” Kejriwal said in a video posted on Twitter.