Education on Hold: The Dilemma of Air Pollution in Delhi

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Delhi has been no stranger to air pollution. In fact, it seems like a case of déjà vu for the residents each year, especially when the seasons transition and winter is on its way. The city is often found at the top of any list referring to the “world’s most polluted capitals,” and this year is no different. For Dehli, there are varying levels of PM2.5, which determine the status of the city’s air quality:

Levels of PM2.5 that are BELOW 50 are considered “good”; Levels over 50 but below 100 are considered “satisfactory.”

Dehli has seen days where the PM2.5 levels range from 360+ in the city and near 500 in the suburban areas. These levels are causing citizens to flock to the hospitals to seek treatment for wheezing and breathing difficulties – which often start as itching, watering eyes, and stuffy noses for the less vulnerable. Those who can afford to purchase air purification units do so, but others find that simply breathing outdoors in Dehli could be a death sentence.

Delhi Life On Hold

As pollution levels worsened in the city during late November – the city reacted by shutting down non-essential activities. Construction jobs get put on hold if they are not for transport or defense-related contracts. Five out of 11 coal-based power plants have been allowed to remain in operation, with six of them shut down for the time being.

Even schools closed their doors because of pollution – and the government even considered city-wide shutdowns to aid in dissipating the pollution that blanketed the area. These measures are a valid response when numbers indicate that 57,000 people died prematurely in Delhi last year due to exposure to air pollution.

What is Causing Delhi’s Pollution Problem?

The government believes that there are many different contributing factors to Delhi’s air pollution problem. One of these is the practice of burning farm stubble, but they do not believe that this practice results in any more than 10% of the total pollution. In mid-November of this year, there was a record-breaking number of farm stubble burning, resulting in PM2.5 levels reaching 48% instead of the normal 10%. Unfortunately, the number should be 0% due to the ban on burning stubble in 2015, but enforcement on this is not upheld as it should be.

It is also possible that the celebrations of Diwali could be partially to blame for the increase in PM2.5 levels during this season. When monitoring the levels, officiants found that PM2.5 levels had increased by almost 40% by the second day of the festival. There has been an effort made to stop the fireworks, but much like the stubble burning, there is little enforcement made.

Considering Solutions

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) recently had the COP26 climate change conference, where ways to reduce pollution were discussed. Ridding the world of air pollution is not something that can be done quickly. It is a list of practices that must be executed and upheld over time. In the interim, wearing a quality air mask is a low-cost but highly efficient way to protect ourselves from the pollution lurking in the air. When wearing masks outdoors, we are also protecting ourselves from the aforementioned risk of premature death due to PM2.5 exposure.

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