New Delhi smog: City pollution hits crisis point

First Aid Training in India is becoming a  large problem. The government is stating to join the fight by placing first aid training sessions.


IT’S a city slowly choking its own citizens, leaving them unable to breath properly.

As the Indian city of New Delhi remains blanketed in thick smog, the city’s chief minister described it as a “gas chamber” and angry citizens demand action.

India’s capital has been hit by thick smog for the past week obscuring landmarks from view and leaving a population struggling.

The air has been the worst it’s been all year in the capital, with microscopic particles that can affect breathing and health spiking to 75 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organisation.

Experts have compared breathing the air to smoking a couple of packs of cigarettes a day. The Lancet medical journal recently estimated that some 2.5 million Indians die each year as a result of pollution.

Indian fitness enthusiasts work out amid heavy smog near India Gate in New Delhi last week. Picture: Dominique Faget/AFPSource:AFP

Anumita Roychowdhury, the executive director of research and advocacy at New Delhi’s Centre for Science and Environment last week told the Associated Press it was a health emergency.

Air quality typically gets worse at this time of year as nearby farmers burn fields and people build street fires to keep warm.

The conditions prompted the capital’s top elected official, Arvind Kejriwal, to describe his city as a “gas chamber”.

However, the smog crisis didn’t stop tens of thousands of runners taking part in the city’s half marathon yesterday.

Runners ignored dire health warnings from doctors who fought for the controversial race in the heavily polluted capital to be postponed.

A participant wears a mask as he runs during the Delhi Half Marathon in New Delhi, India. Picture: Oinam Anand/APSource:AP

More than 30,000 people, some sporting pollution masks, braved a hazy morning to run through the capital despite almost two weeks of hazardous smog that forced schools shut for several days.

The US embassy website showed levels of the smallest and most harmful airborne pollutants hovered near 200 — eight times the World Health Organisation’s safe maximum — for the duration of the 21km race.

Some athletes complained of side effects from the polluted conditions which worsened as amateur runners — the bulk of Sunday’s competitors — huffed and puffed around Delhi’s smoggy streets later in the morning.

“My eyes are burning, my throat is dry. I have a running nose,” said running enthusiast Rohit Mohan, 30, from the southern city of Bangalore who was among the minority donning a mask. “It’s been terrible since I landed here yesterday.”

Others expressed frustration at being forced to take precautions unnecessary elsewhere, like wearing masks that filter pollutants but also restrict breathing.

“It’s obviously much harder to breathe, so you’re not doing your best here, and you can’t take it off,” Abhay Sen, 30, told AFP.

The overwhelming majority ran without masks and expressed relief Delhi’s atrocious air — recently so bad doctors declared a public health emergency — had lowered to levels considered merely “unhealthy”.

Doctors warn running in severe pollution can trigger asthma attacks, worsen lung conditions and increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

A satirical video widely shared on social media in recent days showed a runner chain smoking cigarettes and inhaling exhaust fumes to prepare for the race.

Delhi is often ranked one of the world’s most polluted capitals, and local authorities have been blasted for failing to offset this annual scourge.

Some runners saw their participation on Sunday as an act of defiance.

“I know pollution is bad and it can affect my health but I am still participating,” said Sitam, who like many Indians goes by one name.

Last week, India’s environment minister Harsh Vardhan said the country’s filthy air was no cause for alarm, claiming only “routine precautions” were needed to cope with the health emergency.

The Indian Medical Association said New Delhi was in the midst of a public health emergency over the shocking smog levels. Picture: Altaf Qadri/APSource:AP

Mr Vardhan contrasted the pollution choking large swathes of north India, including the capital, with the 1984 gas leak in Bhopal that killed at least 25,000 people and remains the world’s worst industrial disaster.

Bhopal, he argued was “an emergency situation where you have to panic and you have to see what you have to do,” he said in an interview published on the CNN-18 news channel website on Tuesday.

Participants make their way along Rajpath during the Delhi Half Marathon in New Delhi yesterday. Picture: Chandan Khanna/AFPSource:AFP

But on the current smog crisis he said: “I’m not saying we shouldn’t do anything about it, everyone has to respond to what he is supposed to do. But there is no need to spread panic among the people.”

Mr Vardhan said “routine precautions” were all that were needed to cope with levels of dangerous pollutants in the air that have exceeded World Health Organisation safety guidelines many times over everyday for the past week.

India’s leaders have been criticised for failing to do more to tackle rising pollution levels, which experts say are wiping years off the lives of its citizens.

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