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    Delhi air quality: Severe pollution prompts car rationing

    November 04, 2019

    The Indian capital, Delhi, has launched a car rationing system as it battles hazardous levels of pollution.From 4 to 15 November, only cars with either odd or even number plates will be allowed on the roads each day, officials said.Such a system has been used before, but it's not clear if it actually helps bring down pollution.Levels of dangerous particles in the air - known as PM2.5 - are at well over ten times safe limits.However, cars are not believed to be the main cause of Delhi's toxic air, with experts pointing instead to crop burning by farmers in neighbouring states to clear fields.Health officials have asked people to stay indoors and refrain from doing any physical activity as millions are at risk of respiratory illness. Schools are closed until Tuesday and the shutdown is likely to be extended until Friday as the city continues to choke under a thick blanket of smog.
    Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the car rationing system, known as the "odd-even plan", would take hundreds of thousands of cars off the road. Those ignoring the rule will be fined 4,000 rupees (£44; $56) - double that of previous years.Only public transport, emergency vehicles, taxis and two-wheelers will be allowed. Women driving alone will also be exempt from the rule.Experts say emissions from vehicles are just one of several factors that have turned the city into - in Mr Kejriwal's words - a "gas chamber".A major cause of the high pollution levels at this time of year is farmers in neighbouring states burning crop stubble to clear their fields.This creates a lethal cocktail of particulate matter - carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide - all worsened by fireworks set off during the Hindu festival of Diwali a week ago.Construction and industrial emissions have also contributed to the smog.
    Efforts to identify a cause have sparked a row between state and federal politicians, with Mr Kejriwal calling on the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana to crack down on crop burning.This led to Federal Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar accusing Mr Kejriwal of politicising the issue and painting his neighbours "as villains".But ordinary Indians are just hoping that scattered rainfall in the coming week will wash away the pollutants. However this is not expected until Thursday.There is no escaping the oppressive smog which has descended on the city. According to Siddharth Singh, climate policy researcher and author of The Great Smog of India, the air in Delhi "smells like burning leaves"."It's smoky. Eyes are itchy. The throat is also a little iffy. And everyone's feeling it," he told the BBC.
    The level of PM2.5 - tiny particulates that can enter deep into the lungs - was at one point seven times higher than in the Chinese capital Beijing, which has battled similar pollution problems in recent years.An Indian health ministry official said the city's pollution monitors did not have enough digits to accurately record pollution levels, which he called a "disaster".Five million masks were handed out in schools on Friday as officials declared a public health emergency.Part of the reason is a change in crop cycles and harvesting in the agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana.A decade ago the two states passed identical laws intended to preserve ground water, which effectively compelled farmers to plant their rice crops in mid-June rather than end-April as was the tradition.This was to enable them to make use of monsoonal rains to grow the heavily water-dependant crop.
    The delay in the planting cycle meant the harvesting cycle was also delayed. Farmers now have much less time to prepare their fields for the next crop cycle and burning stubble is a cheap and effective way to clear the land.Unfortunately, this coincides with changing wind patterns over Delhi and the rest of north India."The perfect storm of conditions during November has created almost 30 percent higher atmospheric concentrations of fine particulate matter," said a Cornell University study published in July.Delhi's geography - it is landlocked and sits on a flat plain that is blocked off by the Himalayas - means it is more drastically affected.And the mega-city's traffic also contributes to the problem.Hundreds of teams from the police, the transport department and civil volunteers have been deployed to enforce the system, which was previously used in 2016 and 2017.It is likely to put extra pressure on the public transport system but officials say they will increase services.If your number plate ends in one, three, five, seven or nine, you can only drive on odd dates (5,7,9,11,13 and 15 November) and if it ends in zero, two, four, six or eight, you can drive on even dates (4,6,8,12 and 14 November).The restrictions are in place from 8am to 8pm from Monday to Saturday and will also apply to cars coming from outside the city. Sunday is free for all.Unlike in earlier years, vehicles that run on cleaner fuel like CNG (compressed natural gas) will have to adhere to the system, though electric vehicles are still exempt.Delhi's chief minister and other state ministers are not exempt, though there is a fairly long list of those who've been granted exemptions from the rule.They include the president and prime minister, foreign diplomats, women driving alone or with only female passengers, and cars on the way to hospital if they can prove it's an emergency.
    Millions of masks distributed to students in 'gas chamber' Delhi
    1 November 2019
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    Media captionResidents donned high-grade masks under a blanket of polluted smog
    Five million masks are being distributed at schools in India's capital, Delhi, after pollution made the air so toxic officials were forced to declare a public health emergency.

    A Supreme Court-mandated panel imposed several restrictions in the city and two neighbouring states, as air quality deteriorated to "severe" levels.

    Dangerous particulate levels in the air are about 20 times the WHO maximum.

    The city's schools have also been closed until at least next Tuesday.

    All construction has been halted for a week and fireworks have been banned. From Monday, the city will introduce a temporary scheme so that only cars with odd or even numbered licence plates can drive on given days, in a bid to cut traffic pollution.

    Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the city had been turned into a "gas chamber".

    Image Copyright @[email protected]<br< a="">>Report
    The masks are being handed out to students and their parents, and Mr Kejriwal has asked people to use them as much as possible.

    The levels of tiny particulate matter (known as PM2.5) that enter deep into the lungs are 533 micrograms per cubic metre in the city. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that the PM2.5 levels should not be more than 25 micrograms per cubic metre on average in 24 hours.

    Delhi smog: Foul air came from India's farming revolution
    Tackling pollution from stubble burning in India
    How thick is the pollution?
    As thick white smog blanketed the city, residents started tweeting pictures of their surroundings.

    Photos of German leader Angela Merkel's official visit showed the obscuring effect of the smog at the presidential palace - though both leaders ignored the declared public health emergency and declined to wear masks.

    Image copyrightEPA
    Image caption
    The German and Indian leaders met at India's presidential palace amid the smog
    Some workers were being told to work from home to avoid the pollution.

    One account director at market research firm Kantar, which employs several hundred people in the city, told Reuters staff had been told not to come in on Monday.

    Media captionPollution masks: Do they really work?
    Many local residents are furious that the situation remains the same year after year. Municipal workers and vulnerable groups have been given thousands of free high-grade N95 masks in recent years.

    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    Two years ago this month, hospital patients in Gurgaon were issued masks amid similar conditions
    "I didn't realise how bad it would get," one resident said. "Do we really want our kids to grow up in such an environment? No-one really cares, no-one wants to improve the situation."

    The hashtags #DelhiAirQuality and #FightAgainstDelhiPollition are trending on Twitter.

    Image Copyright @[email protected]<br< a="">>Report
    Image Copyright @
    [email protected]<br< a="">>Report
    The thick smog also raised concerns for the weekend's cricket clash between India and Bangladesh. A 2017 match in similar polluted conditions led to Sri Lankan players vomiting on the pitch.

    But Bangladesh's coach said that despite "scratchy eyes" and sore throats among his players, the game would go ahead.

    Image copyrightAFP
    Image caption
    Bangladesh head coach Russell Domingo (R) wore a mask to training, but said his players would get on with it
    "No-one is dying," Russell Domingo told the Press Trust of India.

    "Look, there's a bit of pollution in Bangladesh as well, so it's a not a massive shock unlike some other countries. The players have just got on with the game and haven't complained too much about it," he said.

    Why is the pollution so bad?
    One of the main reasons for air quality in the city worsening every year in November and December is that farmers in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana burn crop stubble to clear their fields. It's made worse by the fireworks during the Hindu festival of Diwali.

    There are other reasons too, including construction dust, factory and vehicular emissions, but farm fires remain the biggest culprit.

    More than two million farmers burn 23 million tonnes of crop residue on some 80,000 sq km of farmland in northern India every winter.

    The stubble smoke is a lethal cocktail of particulate matter, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide.

    Using satellite data, Harvard University researchers estimated that nearly half of Delhi's air pollution between 2012 and 2016 was due to stubble burning.

    The burning is so widespread that it even shows up in satellite photos from Nasa.

    What are PM 2.5 particles?
    Particulate matter, or PM, 2.5 is a type of pollution involving fine particles less than 2.5 microns (0.0025mm) in diameter
    A second type, PM 10, is of coarser particles with a diameter of up to 10 microns
    Some occur naturally - e.g. from dust storms and forest fires, others from human industrial processes
    They often consist of fragments that are small enough to reach the lungs or, in the smallest cases, to cross into the bloodstream as well

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