India is bracing itself for its annual choking pollution smog attack which turns much of the north of that country and New Delhi into a “gas chamber,”—and a new report published by Reuters had finally revealed the exact cause: Indians.
The report, titled “Preparing to choke: India’s annual pollution threat explained,” says that “Each year, from late October, a thick blanket of smog settles over vast swathes of northern India, including the capital, New Delhi, pushing air pollution levels off the charts.”
According to the report, as “winter approaches each year, a combination of factors such as the burning of crop residues, fouling of the air by industry, vehicle exhaust, and dust from construction work, lead to a sharp spike in pollution levels.”
“The problem is exacerbated as people let off fireworks to celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali in late October or early November,” the report continues.
The Reuters report said that last year, “a dangerous toxic smog forced authorities to shut schools, ban diesel-run generators, construction, burning of garbage and non-essential truck deliveries.
“As pollution levels climbed to 12 times the recommended limit and the Indian Medical Association declared a public health emergency, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called the city a ‘gas chamber.’ Last week, he warned the city may face the same fate this year because of the unrestrained stubble burning.”
North Indian cities, including Delhi, top a list of places with the worst air in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The database of more than 2,600 cities showed that 14 of the 18 most polluted cities on the planet are in northern India.
The primary cause of India’s air pollution is “stubble burning.” This is, the report explains, “Between end-September and mid-November, farmers from Punjab and Haryana states burn an estimated 35 million tonnes of crop residue after they harvest their rice crop.”
The satellite image below shows fires burning in the north Indian states of Punjab and Haryana. It was captured by the VIIRS instrument onboard the Suomi National Polar-Orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) spacecraft on October 30, 2017.
After the introduction of mechanized harvesters, burning crop residues became common because the machine leaves stalks that are about one foot tall. The Indians now burn the stalks to clear the land before planting winter crops.
“The fire from paddy fields releases gases like carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, both known for forming smog. Crop burning is one of the major reasons behind a sharp rise in pollution levels every winter. From Punjab and Haryana, the hazardous air makes its way across the entire northern part of the country,” the Reuters report continues, saying that wind reversals and cold air after the monsoon season means that the smog does not get dispersed.
Although the National Green Tribunal, India’s main environmental court, has banned crop residue burning, the decree rarely gets enforced.
“Another contributing factor to smog is the huge number of fireworks set off as part of the Diwali festivities,” the report says.
“During this annual festival of lights, Hindus celebrate the triumph of good over evil with firecrackers and small oil-filled clay lamps. In New Delhi, the morning after Diwali `always brings a blanket of thick white smog — and the situation will likely be the same this year. Hourly air data from the U.S. Embassy in Delhi shows the spike in air pollution over the night of Diwali and the morning after.”