The concentration of fine particles, with rates 25 times higher than the maximum recommended by the WHO, has exploded for a few days in New Delhi and its region, where we can witness the descent of a cloud of gray particles. This pollution is made up of its toxic seasonal ingredients: the discharges of millions of vehicles and industries, which disperse less quickly in the fall, and above all, the most visible and acrid element, the smoke from the agricultural fires of neighboring Punjab.
To be able to plant the winter seedlings quickly, the modest peasants of this northern region, India’s rice granary, burn the stubble from the summer harvest. A cheaper and faster practice, according to them, is to fertilize fields before sowing winter crops.
Atmospheric conditions are such that smoke from farm fires is now blowing toward the capital, alerting agencies to take localized action to minimize the impact.
India’s Central Pollution Control Board said the air quality index had reached 424, more than enough to put it in the “severe” category. High levels of pollution have halted construction in Delhi and prompted people to work from home.
Authorities in the region have been fighting for years to reduce the use of these fires by farmers by providing machines that harvest this straw, but this has had very little impact so far.
India is facing severe environmental problems: recurrent droughts and water shortages, air pollution in large cities, mountains of piled-up waste, polluted rivers…
The government had recently announced plans to invest $600 million over three years to clean its air. New Delhi has planned to electrify 80% of its bus network, build new charging stations for electric vehicles and increase its solar energy production to 25%.
These are crucial decisions because the Indian capital is considered one of the most polluted cities on the planet due to its titanic traffic, industry, and winter agricultural burns that suffocate the inhabitants. Last year, the city even considered confining its population due to an extreme pollution peak.
According to a study by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute (EPIC) published this year, New Delhi was the city with the highest concentration of fine particles globally, reaching 110 micrograms per cubic meter.
These particles, which cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, are thought to be responsible for the death of 1.6 million Indians each year.
A report by the Observer Research Foundation think tank said that among the top factors responsible for year-round air toxicity are industrial pollution and vehicle emissions. But pollution is further escalating due to farmland fires in October and November.