New Delhi declares emergency as toxic smog thickens by the hour

Residents walk along a road amid heavy smog in New Delhi. The Indian capital declared a pollution emergency and banned the entry of trucks and construction activity. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2017
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New Delhi declares emergency as toxic smog thickens by the hour

NEW DELHI: The Indian capital declared a pollution emergency and banned the entry of trucks and construction activity as a toxic smog hung over the city for a third day on Thursday and air quality worsened by the hour.
Illegal crop burning in the farm states surrounding New Delhi, vehicle exhaust emissions in a city with limited public transport and swirling construction dust have caused the crisis, which arises every year.
The problem has been compounded this year by still conditions, the weather office said.
A US embassy measure of tiny particulate matter PM 2.5 showed a reading of 608 at 10 am when the safe limit is 50.
An hour before it was 591.
PM 2.5 is particulate matter about 30 times finer than a human hair. The particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and respiratory diseases.
Residents complained of headaches, coughs and smarting eyes. Many stayed home and restaurants in some of the city’s most crowded parts were deserted.
“I’d like to assure people that the central government shall do everything possible to bring about improvement in air quality in Delhi and the Nation Capital Region,” federal environment minister Harsh Vardhan said as authorities faced criticism for failing to take steps to fight a problem that erupts every year.
The haze covered India Gate, a war memorial in the center of the city where Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla were due to pay respects in a two-day trip ending on Thursday.
Schools have been shut for the week and late on Wednesday the city administration announced a set of measures to try to clean up the air.
Commercial trucks have been banned from the city unless they are transporting essential commodities, all construction has been stopped and car parking charges raised four times to force residents to use public transport.
The Delhi transport department said it would take a decision later in the day on whether to introduce an “odd-even” scheme under which cars with license plates ending in an odd number are allowed one day and even-numbered cars the next.
But experts said these measures were unlikely to bring immediate relief.
“There is such a cloud over us that you probably need artificial rain or some such to clear this,” said Dr. Vivek Nangia, a pulmonologist at Delhi’s Fortis hospital.
Video images shot by ANI, a Reuters affiliate, showed farmers illegally burning crop stubble in Rohtak, about 65 km from Delhi.
Farmers in Haryana, where Rohtak is located, and Punjab, the two big agrarian states surrounding Delhi, burn millions of tons of crop waste around October every year before sowing the winter crop of wheat.
State authorities say it is hard to enforce the ban unless farmers, a powerful political constituency, are given funds to buy machinery to clear their land.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said in a Twitter post: “Situation is serious but Punjab helpless as problem is widespread & state has no money to compensate farmers for stubble management.”


US agency error exposes 2.3 mln disaster survivors to fraud -watchdog

Updated 4 min 23 sec ago
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US agency error exposes 2.3 mln disaster survivors to fraud -watchdog

  • FEMA awarded contracts to 1,660 different entities in the last fiscal year, according to federal contracting data, covering everything from food to construction equipment
WASHINGTON: The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) exposed 2.3 million disaster survivors to possible identity theft and fraud by improperly sharing sensitive personal information with an outside company, according to an internal government watchdog.
The US Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said FEMA had shared financial records and other sensitive information of people who had participated in an emergency shelter program after being displaced by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and the California wildfires in 2017.
The Inspector General’s office said FEMA had shared participants’ home addresses and bank account information with the contractor, along with necessary information like their names and birthdates.
That “has placed approximately 2.3 million disaster survivors at increased risk of identity theft and fraud,” the Inspector General’s office said in a report. The name of the contactor was redacted.
FEMA spokeswoman Lizzie Litzow said the agency had found no indication to suggest survivor data had been compromised.
“It’s not identified as a data breach. It’s oversharing of information,” she said.
Litzow said the agency has removed unnecessary information from the contractor’s computer systems.
But FEMA’s review only found that the contractor’s computer systems had not been breached within the past 30 days because it did not keep records beyond that point, OIG said. FEMA told the watchdog it will not be able to completely resolve the problem until June 30.
It is not the first time OIG has found that FEMA has mishandled personal information. A 2015 review revealed that agency personnel at a disaster-response center in California stored disaster survivor records in open, unsecured cardboard boxes. Investigators also found the agency mishandled data in 2013.
FEMA awarded contracts to 1,660 different entities in the last fiscal year, according to federal contracting data, covering everything from food to construction equipment.
The privacy breach is likely to prompt further criticism of an agency that was stretched to its limit in the second half of 2017 as it responded to a string of record-breaking hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters.
In particular, FEMA struggled to deliver food and water in a timely fashion to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria killed nearly 3,000 people and left the island’s 3.7 million residents without electricity for several months.
FEMA director Brock Long faced criticism last fall when DHS determined that he had inappropriately used government vehicles to commute between Washington and North Carolina. He resigned in February, capping an 18-month tenure during which the agency responded to more than 220 declared disasters.