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.”


Millions of women still landless despite global push for equality

Updated 2 min 45 sec ago
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Millions of women still landless despite global push for equality

  • Throughout rural areas in Zimbabwe, for example, widows routinely find themselves harassed and exploited by in-laws claiming the property their husbands left behind
WASHINGTON: Millions of women worldwide are still unable to access and own land despite laws recognizing their rights, researchers and campaigners said on Monday as they urged countries to bridge the gap between policy and practice.
Patriarchal attitudes toward women and girls and a lack of knowledge of their own rights “prevent millions of women from owning land,” said Victoria Stanley, senior rural development specialist at the World Bank.
“Only 30 percent of the world’s population own land titles, and women are often the least likely to have any land registered,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of a World Bank conference in Washington, D.C.
“Stand for her land,” a campaign launched on Monday by the World Bank and advocacy groups including Landesa and Habitat for Humanity International, aims to change that by promoting better implementation of land laws for women.
Globally, more than 400 million women farm, yet only about 15 percent of farmland is owned by women, according to Landesa.
That inequality exposes women to all manner of rights abuses, rights activists say.
Throughout rural areas in Zimbabwe, for example, widows routinely find themselves harassed and exploited by in-laws claiming the property their husbands left behind.
Although Zimbabwe’s constitution gives women and men equal rights to property and land, in many rural communities tradition overrides national legislation, experts say.
Godfrey Massey of Landesa Tanzania said the existence of laws in itself does not necessarily translate into better access to land for women.
“Women can own land just as men, but few women are aware of this in Tanzania,” he said, calling for more initiatives at the community level to raise awareness of land rights.
“We’ve seen trainings lead to a rise in women joining village land councils or realizing that their husband can’t mortgage the family land without their consent,” he said.
Rajan Samuel of Habitat for Humanity India said that efforts to improve land rights must acknowledge cultural norms like India’s centuries-old Hindu caste system.
“You can have all the policies in the world, if you don’t engage the community from day one you won’t succeed,” he said.