Rain clears smog in Indian capital yet air quality 'very poor'

Published: January 6, 2019
A man rides his bicycle in front of the India Gate shrouded in smog in New Delhi, India, December 26, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

A man rides his bicycle in front of the India Gate shrouded in smog in New Delhi, India, December 26, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI: A rainy spell early on Sunday brought better air to residents of New Delhi, giving them a brief respite from thick grey smog that has shrouded the Indian capital for the last two months, although air quality continued to be “very poor”.

A measure of tiny, hazardous breathable particles known as PM 2.5 reached an average of 182 by 12 pm, the Central Pollution Control Board said, its lowest since Nov 4.

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But pollution was still five times more than a US government recommended level of 35 to stand at “unhealthy” levels, according to the US embassy.

“Change in weather conditions by rain or higher wind speed helps dissipate peak pollution, but we continue to need strong emergency actions such as shutting power plants,” said Anumita Roychowdhury of the Centre for Science and Environment think-tank.

The federal government air quality index rated Delhi’s air quality “very poor” on Sunday and had a similar forecast for Monday, urging people with respiratory and cardiac problems to avoid polluted areas and limit outdoor movement.

A sharp drop in temperatures and wind speed over the last two weeks, combined with vehicle and industrial emissions, dust from building sites and smoke from garbage burning has stoked pollution over much of north India.

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Levels of PM 2.5, or particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, hit their highest last year at 450 on Dec 23.

Despite the pollution, there is little sign Delhi’s 20 million residents are taking steps to protect themselves. Activists say the apparent lack of concern gives politicians the cover they need for not tackling the issue adequately.

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