India’s capital New Delhi was blanketed in a thick layer of toxic smog on Friday and some schools were ordered to close as the air quality index (AQI) fell to the worst level for any major city in the world.
A combination of cooler temperatures, persistent wind and stubble burning in neighboring rural states has caused air pollutants to rise, officials said.
Many of the capital’s 20 million residents complained of eye irritation and itchy throats with the air turning a thick gray as the AQI hovered around 480 at some monitoring stations.
An AQI of 0-50 is considered good, while anything between 400-500 affects healthy people and poses a risk to those with existing illnesses.
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“In the last 24 hours of my duty, I saw babies coughing, children coming in distress and rapid breathing,” Aheed Khan, a doctor from Delhi, told social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
There were fewer people in city parks such as Lodhi Garden and India Gate, popular with joggers, a Reuters witness said.
Residents grabbed air purifiers and an appliance service center said there was a shortage of new filters and new supplies were expected on Monday.
Officials said they saw no immediate improvement in air quality.
“This level of pollution is here to stay for the next two to three weeks, exacerbated by incidents of stubble burning, slow wind speed and cooling temperatures,” said Ashwani Kumar, chairman of the Delhi Pollution Control Board.
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Farmers in the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh typically burn post-harvest crop waste in October to clear their fields before sowing winter crops a few weeks later.
This year, attention to deteriorating air quality has cast a shadow over India’s hosting of the cricket World Cup, with the financial capital Mumbai also suffering from a rise in pollution levels.
Delhi hosts a World Cup match on Monday between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
New Delhi topped a real-time list of the world’s most polluted cities on Friday, compiled by Swiss group IQAir, which ranked the Indian capital’s AQI at 611 in the “dangerous” category, followed by 277 in Lahore city of Pakistan.
While high schools in the capital New Delhi were ordered to close for Friday and Saturday, they were open in the suburbs and children were forced to take off masks that had been removed from the COVID-19 pandemic and wear them as they boarded their school buses. .
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