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Air Pollution In New Delhi Forced Airlines To Ground Planes, Factories And Schools To Close


For part of the weekend, United Airlines suspended flights to New Delhi. The reason was over health concerns. India's capital is engulfed in what's being described as a thick, toxic smog. Microscopic particles in the air can affect breathing and cause other problems. The level of those particles in New Delhi is at about 75 times what's considered safe by the World Health Organization.

Anumita Roychowdhury is the executive director of research and advocacy at New Delhi Center for Science and the Environment. Thanks for speaking with us.


HU: Anumita, how would you describe what this level of smog looks like?

ROYCHOWDHURY: So if you are in Delhi now, you will see absolutely a blanket of dark smog in the daytime, when you don't - barely see the sun. And it's smoky, very low visibility. And clearly anyone out there in the open is going to feel pretty suffocated because it gives you a sense of choking. And it's bad. So there is strong worry in the city. But we expect this to happen every winter because there's no wind in the city to blow it away.

HU: Anumita, you mentioned that this is something that New Delhi has seen before. What are families doing to try and protect their children?

ROYCHOWDHURY: There are advisories that have gone out and (inaudible) to ensure that everyone, children as well as adults - they must reduce their personal exposure, which means not try and go out - only for your essential, but - and not allow children to play outside or have very - you know, do heavy exercise or do sports even, do outdoor exercises. We should try and avoid that.

HU: In response to this year's pollution crisis, the government has taken some steps. It has shut down some of the industrial plants and factories. It's charging four times more for parking. But what else needs to be done more broadly in order to curb this problem?

ROYCHOWDHURY: We need now more systemic reforms. And just to give an example of what I mean by that is that today, the emergency plan requires intensification of public transport system and also the increase in parking charges. And they might even introduce the odd-and-even license plate scheme for cars.

HU: Which we see in Beijing, where if you have a license plate ending in an odd number, you can drive on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and then an even number on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example. Is that what you're proposing for India?

ROYCHOWDHURY: Exactly. So this requires a more longer-term systemic reforms. And that's the way we need to move forward. So therefore, we're already looking at, at a broader level, three critical transition. One is the energy transition so that for transport, for industry and power plant, we can move to cleaner fuels. The other big transition is the mobility transition so that we can reduce dependence on cars and scale up public transport options.

And the third transition that we're looking at is a waste management because a lot of pollution is now being created because people are burning waste or the dust from the construction activity or the waste from the construction activities. So clearly - therefore, if we can do a good reform and have a very systemic process to push the action on all the three fronts, then that's going to give us more sustained air quality gains.

HU: Anumita Roychowdhury spoke to us by Skype. She's the executive director of research and advocacy at New Delhi Center for Science and Environment. Anumita, thanks.