In the News
October 21, 2020
October 21, 2020
A familiar scene is taking place in northern India. Vast fields burn, flames engulfing bare stalks of already-harvested crops. Billowing smoke travels across state borders. In towns and cities, the air is thick with yellow haze.
Stubble burning, the practice of intentionally setting fire to cultivated fields to prepare the land for its next crop, is one of the chief drivers of India’s so-called annual pollution season, which begins each winter.
It is especially bad in cities like the capital New Delhi, where smog from the burning crop fields, vehicular emissions, power plants, construction sites, and smoke from Diwali firecrackers combine to create a toxic cloud that lingers until spring.
Authorities have been trying for years to combat this serious public health risk — but there’s a new urgency this year, with fears that pollution could compound the danger of Covid-19.
India has long faced this annual pollution problem; 21 of the 30 cities with the worst air pollution in the world are in India, according to IQAir AirVisual’s 2019 World Air Quality Report.
New Delhi has been ranked the most polluted city in the world, and the air quality last year reached levels more than 20 times what the World Health Organization (WHO) considers “safe.”
The danger lies in harmful microscopic particulate matter. Known as PM 2.5, the tiny particles are smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, meaning they can lodge deep into the lungs and pass into other organs and the bloodstream. PM 2.5 can affect lung development in children, cause chronically reduced lung function, and reduce life expectancy, according to the WHO.
New Delhi residents could live an extra 10.2 years if the air was clean enough to meet WHO standards for particulate concentrations, according to the University of Chicago’s Air Quality Life Index.