Delhi chokes under haze, dust

Published June 15, 2018
New Delhi: Haze and dust blanket buildings in the Indian capital.—Reuters
New Delhi: Haze and dust blanket buildings in the Indian capital.—Reuters

NEW DELHI: Air pollution soared in New Delhi on Thursday to hazardous levels rarely seen outside winter as sand blown from deserts enveloped the Indian capital in a once-in-a-decade phenomenon.

Doctors warned the grit carried by hot summer winds posed serious health risks to the city of 20 million and there was little to do “but pray for rain”.

Smog spikes during winter in Delhi, already one of the world’s most polluted cities, where air quality eclipses the World Health Organisation’s safe levels on any given day.

Pollution levels usually ease in summer, providing some relief from the smog as temperatures soar to 45 degrees Celsius. But the city woke up to stifling heat and smog 20 times safe levels on Thursday, as strong winds blew dust from deserts in western India and beyond across the plains where Delhi lies.

“It is a very unusual phenomenon seen once in a decade or so. The dust is not settling down and the sky is obscure,” said Mahesh Palawat, vice president of meteorology and climate change at SkyMet Weather, a private forecaster.

“It is quite different from winter pollution. It is the dust this time that is the culprit. It may cause breathing problems to many,” he said. Levels of PM10 — dust and larger particles with a diameter of 10 micrometres — exceeded 900 per cubic metre in parts of Delhi on Thursday, according to the US embassy website. The WHO considers 50 the maximum safe level for PM10.

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2018

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