As pollution reached “unbearable” levels, the Indian capital of New Delhi was blanketed with heavy smog in recent days. Low visibility caused flights going to and from New Delhi’s international airport had to be delayed and diverted on Sunday.
Visibility was so poor that 37 flights were diverted from the city’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. More than 250 departures and 300 arrivals were delayed and 19 canceled till 8 pm, affecting thousands of flyers.
The senior airport official said that “We train a certain number of pilots for operating in low-visibility conditions. From the first week of December, we usually pair them in aircraft operating out of north Indian airports in early morning hours. However, such conditions in the first week of November was not accounted for.”
Smoke from firecrackers set off to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights also adds to smog levels. Hospitals in the capital reported a surge in patients coming in with respiratory issues.
On Friday a public health emergency was declared, restricting traffic and limiting all but the most necessary outdoor activities. Schools in the area have been ordered to stay closed until Tuesday.
From Monday, the city government will also restrict the use of private vehicles on the capital’s roads under an “odd-even” scheme based on license plates.
Sachin Mathur, 31, an auto-rickshaw driver in north-west Delhi, said he had to stay outside for work and he had been struggling to breathe. “I am suffering from a throat infection and my eyes are burning. The pollution means I do not get many passengers, so going to a doctor is not affordable.”
New Delhi is home to more than 18 million people and 8.8 million registered motor vehicles — more than any other Indian city. Car fumes, industrial emissions, and smoke from farms have contributed to the pollution crisis.
Arvind Kejriwal, Chief Minister of Delhi said the city had turned into a “gas chamber” and announced that “authorities had begun to distribute 5 million face masks to schoolchildren in the city”.
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