Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

What’s PM 2.5 and why is the New Delhi smog so bad?

Enveloped by a thick, choking shroud of toxic smog, New Delhi has declared a public health emergency.

Schools closed on Wednesday, the second day of the fog crisis, and will remain shut until Sunday.

Pollution trackers suggest the fog has reached the worst level so far this year, and is so high that breathing in air has been compared with being worse than smoking 50 cigarettes a day.

In neighbouring Pakistan, too, flights were cancelled in Lahore, school times were delayed and hospitals overflowed.

In New Delhi, smog levels of PM 2.5, the particles most damaging to health, have reached 40 times the World Health Organization’s safe limit.

Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, was quick to comment on the worsening pollution situation in the capital.

“Every year this happens during this part of year. We have to find a solution to crop burning in adjoining states,” he said, referring to smoke caused by the burning of crops in the northern Indian states near Delhi.

An estimated 35 million tonnes are set afire in Punjab and Haryana every year, which contributes to the haze and smog in New Delhi.

What is happening?

We are approaching what is known as the “fog season”. This occurs as the northeasterly monsoon draws in cool, dry air from the Himalayas.

Why?

Because the air is cool. It is also denser than warm air and as such is stable.

That stability means that the air pressure will tend to rise over the northern plains of India. High pressure acts like a lid on the atmosphere and traps any pollution in the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, not only have we just had the fireworks from the recent Diwali festival, we also have a huge amount of stubble [crop] burning at this time of year.

How long will it go on?

Occasional bouts of rainfall will offer some relief.

However, the season goes on throughout the winter, right into February or sometimes later when the lengthening days and warmer sunshine finally start to have an affect on the local climatic conditions.

What are the effects?

The World Health Organization (WHO) says on its website, on a page regarding India: “Air pollution is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (umbrella term for several progressive lung diseases including emphysema) and lung cancer, and increases the risks for acute respiratory infections and exacerbates asthma.”

At least 1.5 million people died from the effects of air pollution in India in 2012, according to WHO data.

According to the Lancet medical journal, burning solid fuel for cooking released the PM 2.5 pollutant and killed 500,000 people in 2015.

The fog has also already started to cause road accidents, social media footage showed. —Al Jazeera

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Al Jazeera
Official Al Jazeera Mubahser News account آخر وأهم الأخبار تتابعونها عبر هذا الحساب.. كما يمكنكم متابعة حساب الجزيرة مباشر @ajmubasher Al Jazeera has over 663268 followers on Twitter.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Johannesburg council member Jolidee Matongo touted as front-runner to take...

The ANC will likely announce a candidate to take over as the city’s mayor next week after consultation with provincial and national leaders

Covid-19 jab: a ticket of responsibility, not a ticket to...

Being fully vaccinated ‘makes you a little bit more comfortable in your skin’, says 61-year-old Elize Parker

More top stories

Johannesburg council member Jolidee Matongo touted as front-runner to take...

The ANC will likely announce a candidate to take over as the city’s mayor next week after consultation with provincial and national leaders

Clashes in Tunisia after president ousts PM amid Covid protests

Street clashes erupted Monday outside Tunisia's army-barricaded parliament, a day after President Kais Saied ousted the prime minister and suspended the legislature, plunging the young democracy into a constitutional crisis

Five things to watch in the Zambian elections

Zambia will hold presidential elections in three weeks’ time amidst an ongoing economic crisis and rising political tensions. These are the five most important things to look out for in the elections

Covid-19 jab: a ticket of responsibility, not a ticket to...

Being fully vaccinated ‘makes you a little bit more comfortable in your skin’, says 61-year-old Elize Parker
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×