We went terribly wrong this Diwali. And the symptoms of breathlessness, wheezing and panting that have taken over the Delhi-NCR clearly show us how. According to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), post-Diwali pollution has not just worsened this year but has also become more lethal. The levels of PM 2.5, harmful particulate matter in the air, are nearly 40 times above the safe limit, and low wind speeds have worsened the problem.
CSE experts say that according to India Meteorological Department estimates, the smog on November 2 this time was the worst in 17 years. “This demands emergency response to protect the vulnerable — those who are suffering from respiratory and heart diseases, and children. The government should aggressively carry out an information drive, and advise people to stay indoors and avoid outdoor exercises. At the same time, it should roll out stringent pollution measures and take emergency action,” says Anumita Roy Chowdhury, CSE executive director (research and advocacy), and head of its air pollution and sustainable mobility teams.
"Traditionally, levels of pollution surge during Diwali, but the situation this year has intensified due to high levels of moisture in the air and the burning of agricultural residue by farmers on the outskirts of the capital or in its neighbouring states," adds Vivek Chattopadhyay, programme manager, air pollution, CSE. "The Delhi-NCR air quality has been steadily worsening over the past few years, thanks to rapid urbanisation, which brings with it aggravating factors such as diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and industrial emissions."
Dr Rohit Caroli, senior pulmonologist and chest specialist in Noida, says, “This is an alarming situation. Smog mostly affects people with asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory disorders. Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable. Medication dosages after Diwali have had to be been increased for most patients, as normal amounts are not giving them any relief.”
Caroli's advice: Stay indoors in the early morning hours and late night, avoid crowded areas, sleep with the air-conditioner on and avoid inhaling outside air as much as possible.
“I am unable to take my early-morning classes, as the smog permeates the classrooms and makes it difficult to breathe. This toxic air is choking us," says Preeti Patwari, a teacher and mother of a 10-year-old, who stays in Indirapuram's Aditya Megacity. "I am worried for the students who have to travel in this smog."
Another Noida resident from Sector 46, Sumit Singh Bajaj, is planning to shift his wife and kid to Bhopal for some time till the smog thins out. His wife’s allergy has got worse in the past two days, he says.
Ankush Mahajan, a resident of Griha Parvesh Apartments in Noida, is worried about her 8-year-old son who goes to school at 6.45 am every day — a time when the smog is at its worst. “How long can we make him stay away from school or have him indoors? He is a kid and wants to go out and play. Schools are open too. I am worried about his health,” she says.
Chattopadhyay agrees with the parents. "Young kids are the most vulnerable, and schools should either be closed or their timings shifted to keep children away from this dangerous blanket of dust and smoke that has engulfed the Delhi-NCR," he says.
So far, there has been no government declaration about the shutting down of schools for a few days or a shift in timings.
Is this not emergency enough? Or are we waiting for things to get worse?