After a slight improvement in Delhi's poor air quality, on Friday morning the city and its adjoining areas witnessed a thick layer of smog because the air quality level slipped to "extremely bad."
The Arvind Kejriwal-led government has announced certain restrictions— all primary schools will remain shut in the National Capital from tomorrow, all outdoor activities and sports activities will be halted until further notice for school children, s
Only 50% of the Delhi government employees will be going to offices and private organisations have been asked to get their employees to work from home. The odd-even scheme on vehicles may soon be implemented.
BOOM spoke to doctors and environmentalists to understand the impact of the pollution in Delhi.
Is Pollution Affecting People's Health?
Most hospitals in Delhi NCR are full of patients complaining of respiratory issues, especially senior citizens, pregnant women and children, said Dr Nikhil Bante, a pulmonologist at Fortis Hospital, Delhi.
The doctor told BOOM that in the last week there has been a ten-fold increase in patients coming with respiratory illness symptoms— especially asthma patients and patients with Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). "Even cardiology patients are coming with the same complications," he said.
The doctor said that children are the most vulnerable population, and they are getting severely affected due to pollution.
The doctor said that there are two types of cases they have been treating in recent years – patients who already have respiratory issues like asthma, COPD, or post-COVID immunity issues have started feeling more symptoms. "They need to consult the doctors immediately. If people suffering from heart disease, diabetes, or hypertension are not feeling well, they should also get consultations done," the doctor said.
"The other type of patients we are receiving are people without any history of underlying disease. Like youngsters and school going children started facing symptoms like eye or skin allergy, cough, itching, short breathiness are coming for a consultation," he said.
Senior consultant at Aakash Healthcare Super Speciality Hospital, Akshay Budhraja told BOOM that patients with a history of asthma or COPD are facing acute attacks. "Some patients require oxygen and due to heavy pollution in the air, the recovery takes time," he said.
"Patients between the age of 18-25 usually quickly recover with medicines but now many of them are taking time to recover. This was not the case ten years ago," he said.
The doctor said that the younger generation is facing the brunt of inhaling bad air. Their lung development, he said, is hampered because of the air they are breathing.
He said that the symptoms they are witnessing in general patients were earlier spotted in smokers only.
Dr Bante said that there is a "sudden rise" in lung cancer patients in the last three years in Delhi. This, he said, could be indirect evidence that air pollution is affecting the lungs.
Why Is The Air So Bad, Every Year?
Ajay Mittal, Director, India and South Asia (Climate Change Programs), for Earthday, said that metrology plays an important role in air quality. As the temperature lowers with the winter, the pollution gets locked. "That is why the air becomes severe," he explained.
While controlling metrology is not possible, emissions can be controlled.
"There should be proper plans and action to reduce the emission because unless we don't work on the core, fundamental problem, everything else the government is doing is just to buy time and distract from the main problem," Mittal said.
He said that judgments and orders for controlling pollution from thermal power plants have been pending for a long time.
The implementation of rules has also been a challenge.
"The government imposed a ban on firecrackers but it was violated by the citizens. These things should be practically implemented on the ground. There are so many rules on waste management but the citizens are not following it," he said.
The crisis, he said, can be solved only when people follow the rules set by the government.
What Should Be Done To Curb Pollution In Delhi?
Environmentalist Vimlendhu Jha told BOOM that the "government doesn't understand the urgency and the impact of air quality on its citizens". He says that it is high time for the government to declare a "national emergency" in the capital.
"This is not the first time Delhi is witnessing poor air quality. The narrative hasn't changed for the last almost decade and we haven't seen any concrete action to deal with it. There are only blame games going around," he told BOOM.
Jha said that what the government is claiming at international forums is starkly different from what is happening in Delhi NCR today is a. "It is a testimony to the failure of governance – both in terms of policy and understanding," he said.
The priorities, he said, should ideally be for the welfare of citizens. "Unfortunately, it is not," Jha added.
Jha pointed out that the air was comparatively better during the COVID-19 lockdown because the emission was low. The government, he says, has not acted on curbing pollution although "this is a bigger disaster than COVID."
Some of the steps he suggested are controlling vehicular movement, suspending stubble burning, and ceasing construction or demolition works.
On the issue of stubble burning, Kejriwal said, in a press conference on Friday, "Please don't blame Punjab's farmers for this. If they stop farming, how will they eat and provide for their families? It has been only six months since the AAP government has come to power in Punjab. We will take responsibility and ensure that measures are put in place to mitigate the crisis."
"The government has to look at agricultural reforms so that the farmers of Punjab, and Haryana won't be forced to burn stubble," the environmentalist said.
He said that the impact of stubble burning lasts for 40-45 days and contributes nearly 40 percent in changing the air quality.
What Can You Do?
The doctors suggest that staying indoors is a good idea, but one must wear an N-95 mask when stepping out.
Surgical and three-layer masks are useless in situations where the air quality is so worse.
Avoid going outside during early and late hours.
Use indoor plants that help in purifying the air.
Eat nutritious food and fruits that are rich in antioxidants.
The matter regarding Delhi's air pollution has reached the Supreme Court with a Bench headed by Chief Justice U U Lalit listing it for hearing on November 10.
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