By Hannah Ellis-Petersen
Pollution in Delhi reached its worst levels so far this year, with air pollution rising to almost 40 times the amount deemed healthy and airplanes diverted away from the city.
A week on from Diwali, the thick brown smog that shrouded the city after the festival showed no sign of shifting. On Friday, as the air became poison and 20 million people struggled to breathe, a public health emergency was declared, with Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal declaring the city had turned into a “gas chamber”.
By Sunday, the air quality had deteriorated to its worst levels in recent years, with the air quality index measuring over 900 in some areas, far exceeding the level deemed safe by the WHO, and well above even the 500 that deemed “severe plus”. The visibility got so bad that more than 30 flights were redirected from Delhi airport. “Pollution has reached unbearable levels,” said Kejriwal.
Indeed, the long-term health implications of living with this air was laid bare in a study by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, released on Thursday, which found that the life expectancy of people living in the Indian states of Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal has reduced by up to seven years due to pollution. According to a UN report, 14 out of 15 of the world’s most polluted cities are in India.