On Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, schools in New Delhi, India will be physically closed for a week from Monday as severe air pollution blankets the city, the chief minister of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, announced during a press conference after he held an emergency meeting to address the pollution crisis, – leaving the megacity’s officials to consider imposing a complete lockdown.
Government officials will work from home and private businesses are encouraged to do the same to reduce vehicle emissions. Construction activities in the city have also been ordered to stop for four days starting Monday. New Delhi is often ranked as one of the world’s most polluted capitals every year.
Delhi struggles with high levels of pollution especially during the winter months. There are several contributing factors: the burning of farm crop stubbles from neighboring states; vehicle emissions; coal-fired power plants and fireworks used during the Diwali festival. However, this time the situation will be made worse as weather forecasts say winds will not blow for several days. Air quality in and around Delhi was rated very poor to severe early Sunday morning. Prolonged exposure to this level of pollution can cause respiratory illness and even death.
On Nov. 17th, 2021, in response to the latest conditions, the Delhi authorities announced the closure of schools and colleges indefinitely, banned construction activity and told government employees to work from home until Nov. 21st. According to Forbes Magazine , in 2019, 1.67 million people in India died due to toxic air. That figure accounted for nearly one in five deaths in the country and rose from 1.24 million deaths in 2017. Last year, around 57,000 people died prematurely in Delhi as a result of exposure to air pollution according to Greenpeace, despite the Covid lockdown.
The central government, run by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is accusing city officials of inaction, and vice versa. The country’s Supreme Court has stepped in to shut down factories and order farmers to stop burning fields. But the court’s other efforts, which last year included ordering the installation of a pair of air scrubbing filter towers, have been derided as ineffectual.
As stated by The New York Times, India’s air quality suffers from its appetite for fossil fuels, which has only grown after two decades of rapid economic growth. Weaning the country off coal and other dirty fuels will be difficult, a reality underscored by climate negotiations that took place in Glasgow, Scotland, earlier this month. India already struggles to meet its basic power needs. Mr. Modi argues that the use of coal and other fossil fuels is helping build an economy that is lifting millions out of poverty. But emissions from burning coals make the pollution problem worse for city dwellers, particularly the poor, who cannot afford air purifier machines or the electricity to run them.
Sources: BBC, New York Times, CNN, Forbes