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Air pollution in Delhi poses risk to city’s resilience

Beginning in early November, the Indian capital of Delhi started experiencing the longest bout of hazardous air quality the city has ever seen. Though the city consistently tops the charts as one of the world’s most polluted cities, recent levels reached ten times the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended maximum – an unseen high in Delhi. Caused by crop burning, emissions from poorly regulated industries, and smoke from dung-burning ovens, the smog envelops the people of Delhi and presents a major threat to the city’s resilience. 

Smog engulfs Delhi as the sun sets. (Flickr, juggadery).
Smog engulfs Delhi as the sun sets. (Flickr, juggadery.)

The smog in Delhi holds disastrous effects for the communities in which it permeates. The small combustion particles that the smog is comprised of are able to easily move past the normal respiratory defenses when breathed in, accumulating in the lungs and the blood. Symptoms experienced include a persistent cough, watering eyes, and a headache; however, for those who already struggle with cardiovascular and respiratory issues, the inhalation of the smog can be deadly. It also holds serious implications for the development of children. According to a WHO report, about half of the 4.4 million children in Delhi have irreversible lung damage. Even some newborns are being born with lung damage. Such exposure, especially at a young age, reduces lung growth in children and lung capacity in adults, with effects that last long past childhood, including chronic illnesses and diseases such as cancer.

In a country where the pollution is so heavy that it forces planes to land and can be seen from space, solutions are desperately needed. Dubai-based architecture firm Znera has proposed to install a network of 100-meter tall filtration structures across Delhi. Each building would filter air at the street level and pump purified air at the apex, creating a 1.2 square mile area of clean air around the site. Aeronautical engineers and architects have also proposed other solutions, such as “vertical forests” and large pumps to jet pollution into the higher levels of the atmosphere, away from the city. However, these solutions would take time to create and do not reach the root of the issue, leaving the citizens of Delhi without the immediate and long-term relief they need. A more realistic approach would include an emphasis on public transportation infrastructure to reduce emissions from private vehicles, as well as stricter emissions standards for factories, as are being introduced in China. Another solution would be to provide subsidized farming equipment to farmers that engage in crop burning, which accounts for about 40% of Delhi’s current smog. Additionally, India’s government has released plans to use hydrogen-based fuel, and limited vehicle access into and out of Delhi, while also providing surgical masks to students. The air crisis in Delhi deeply affects everyday life, and action must be taken in order to protect its resilience.

 

The Guardian – India says it plans to use hydrogen-based fuel to tackle air crisis

The Yale Global Health Review – Delhi’s Air Pollution and Its Effects on Children’s Health

NPR – As Delhi Chokes on Smog, India’s HEalth Minister Advises: Eat More Carrots

c&en – Searching for solutions to Delhi’s air pollution problem

Science Daily – 92% of the world’s population exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution

World Atlas – Smog And Its Effects on Environmental Health

University of Calgary – Smog

The Guardian – Flights diverted in Delhi as toxic smog hits worst levels of 2019

USA Today – New Delhi’s toxic, polluted air chokes city’s 20 million people, and the haze can be seen from space

The Guardian – Could a grid of giant filters help clean up Delhi’s air?

Independent – Radical solutions to the air pollution crisis from around the world 

National Geographic – China’s Surprising Solutions to Air Pollution

Forbes – Saving Delhi From The Toxic Smog: Regulations Have Failed But Financial Incentives Could Work