More than 20 million residents in Delhi’s metropolitan area are yet again facing some of the worst pollution on earth, with air quality degrading to dangerous levels this week as a mix of weather conditions, urban emissions, and rural smoke converge over India’s capital region.
Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal turned to Twitter to describe his city as a “gas chamber.”
The gray haze led to canceled flights, closed schools, and created a public health emergency. The government distributed 5 million face masks to schoolchildren.
On Monday, some air quality index monitors maxed out with ratings of 999 and pollution reached 50 times the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization. For Delhiites, breathing the air was like smoking 50 cigarettes in a day. The US Embassy in New Delhi maintains its own air quality monitor and reported Thursday that the air quality index improved to a rating of 255, merely “very unhealthy.”
This surge in air pollution in Delhi is an alarmingly regular occurrence, and it’s part of a dangerous pollution problem in India.
The World Health Organization reported last year that 11 of the 12 cities in the world with the most pollution from PM2.5 — particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter that can cause dangerous heart troubles and breathing problems — were in India.
The Lancet Commission on pollution and health found that in 2015, there were 9 million premature deaths stemming from air pollution around the world.
India suffered the worst toll of any country, with more than 2.5 million of these deaths.
Pollution has also shaved 3.2 years from the life expectancies of 660 million people in the country, according to one estimate.