What is behind the Delhi Smog Crisis?

25 December 2017

Lab Chat

It’s no secret that Delhi suffers from some of the worst air in the world. Year after year they suffer from smog, forcing most people to wear facemasks or even stay indoors. In 2017, the supreme court of India ruled to ban the sale of fireworks in New Delhi to avoid the worsened smog that typically follows annual Diwali celebrations. However, it’s not just fireworks that contribute to the smog. Far from it, in fact. Read on to see what’s behind Delhi’s air pollution crisis.

Delhi’s most recent crisis

A smog crisis in Delhi isn’t unusual news. Indeed, it was just a few weeks since the last time air quality was ranked as ‘severe’ by India’s System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR). What does that mean? In short, the Indian capital has had over 300 micrograms of PM2.5 and 400 micrograms of PM10 per cubic metre on average in its air.

As well as creating an unsightly smog, this particulate matter makes its way into the lungs of people exposed to it. The smaller the particles, the deeper it penetrates the respiratory system. When inhaled, it can contribute to chronic lung and heart diseases as well as a range of other health issues.

Behind the smog

So, what led to Delhi’s recent crisis? As well as years of high-emissions from construction in the capital, and a constant flow of traffic, the smog is thought to be down to a dust storm in the Middle East combined with burning of stubble (grain remnants in farming following harvest) in the Northern Indian states.

A report from SAFAR said that the dust storm swept across Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq in late October-early November. Carried by cool winds, the storm carried dust into large parts of the National Capital Region, including Delhi.

The crop-burning predicament

As for stubble burning – it may seem like an easily avoidable problem. However, every year farmers have just a few weeks to clear their fields in time for the new winter crop of wheat. It may not be the most environmentally friendly way, but the quickest way to do this is to burn the straw left from harvesting paddy.

Shouldn’t there be laws against this crop burning? Well, there are. It’s just the farmers are defying the laws as the government is not actually helping them deal with the cost of other crop management or disposal methods. The Indian government may need a rethink of their laws if they wish to truly eliminate the annual smog crisis.

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