India to spray New Delhi from on high to combat toxic smog

According to a 2016 World Bank report, nearly 1.4 million people died in India due to air pollution in 2013, causing an economic loss worth 7.7 percent of the nation’s GDP. (AFP)
Updated 10 November 2017
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India to spray New Delhi from on high to combat toxic smog

NEW DELHI: India plans to spray water over its capital, New Delhi, to try to combat toxic smog that has triggered a pollution emergency, officials said on Friday, with conditions expected to get worse over the weekend.
Illegal crop burning in farm states surrounding New Delhi, vehicle exhaust in a city with limited public transport and swirling construction dust have caused the crisis, as they do year after year.
“Sprinkling water is the only way to bring down the dangerous pollution levels,” said Shruti Bhardwaj, the environment ministry’s senior most official in charge of monitoring air quality.
The government was finalizing the plans to spray the water from a height of 100 meters, which would be unprecedented, she said, without saying how much of the city of 22 million people would be covered.
The thick blanket of grey air and pollutants has enveloped Delhi for the past four days. A US embassy measure of tiny particulate matter, called PM 2.5, showed a reading of 523 at 9am on Friday — the outer limit of “good” air is 50.
PM 2.5 is 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.
The air has remained consistently in the “hazardous” category or beyond those levels, despite a litany of government measures: ordering a halt to all construction activities, restricting vehicular movement and raising parking charges four times to push residents to use public transport.

Commercial trucks are now banned from the city unless they are transporting essential commodities and the Delhi transport department said it re-introduced 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 day.
The scheme was introduced in the Chinese capital a decade ago to fight traffic and pollution with mixed success.
The Delhi high court issued an order on Thursday suggesting the city’s government consider “cloud seeding” to induce rainfall artificially, a practice also used in Beijing.
Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi, said sprinkling water will help, but it won’t solve everything.
“Each and every dust control measure has to be put in place to ensure that air quality improves as soon as possible,” she said.
Satyendra Kumar Jain, New Delhi’s health minister, said laborers living in urban slums or beneath road fly-overs were suffering the most. Government hospitals in the city, Jain said, were treating thousands of patients with respiratory ailments.
“The only solution left is that we start spraying water right at the street level, especially along heavy traffic roads,” Jain said.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of Delhi, called the capital a “gas chamber” earlier this week as his government sought urgent meetings with the federal government and neighboring states to find solutions.
Affluent residents and large private companies have been placing bulk orders for air purifiers and filtration masks.
“I have installed six air purifiers in my home, closed all the windows, but my eyes are still watering,” said Ranveer Singhal, a commodity trader living in leafy neighborhood of the city.
According to a 2016 World Bank report, nearly 1.4 million people died in India due to air pollution in 2013, causing an economic loss worth 7.7 percent of the nation’s GDP.
Organizers of music festivals and open air parties are now canceling events after the Central Pollution Control Board said air quality could deteriorate further during the weekend.
Pronab Sarkar, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, said air pollution had also hit tourism.
“Many tourists are canceling their bookings for Christmas holiday,” he said.


Britain’s opposition Labour backs new election over Brexit impasse

Updated 23 September 2018
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Britain’s opposition Labour backs new election over Brexit impasse

  • Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has so far resisted calls to back a ‘People’s Vote,’ or new referendum on the decision to quit the EU
  • Brexit minister Dominic Raab again ruled out a new election, describing the suggestion as ‘for the birds’
LIVERPOOL: Britain’s opposition Labour Party prefers a new election to a second referendum on Brexit, its leader said on Sunday, heaping pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May whose plans for a deal with the EU have hit an impasse.
Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has so far resisted calls to back a “People’s Vote,” or new referendum on the decision to quit the EU.
But the political landscape has changed since May was ambushed by the European Union on Thursday over her plans for Brexit — the biggest shift in British policy for more than four decades.
With talk of a new election swirling after May’s “Chequers” plan was all but shredded at an EU summit in Austria last week and chances of Britain exiting the bloc without a deal rising, Labour is under pressure to start setting the Brexit agenda.
Corbyn, a veteran euroskeptic who in 1975 voted “No” to Britain’s membership of the then-European Community, said that while he would listen to a debate about any possible second vote on Britain’s membership, he preferred a snap election if May failed to get a deal that Labour could support in parliament.
“Our preference would be for a general election and we can then negotiate our future relationship with Europe but let’s see what comes out of conference,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, saying Labour was ready to vote against any deal.
“We would vote it down if it didn’t meet our tests in order to send the government, if it is still in office, straight back to the negotiating table and if there is a general election and we are in office we would go straight to the negotiating table.”
Corbyn’s close ally, Len McCluskey, leader of Britain’s biggest trade union Unite, told the BBC any such second referendum “shouldn’t be on: ‘do we want to go back into the European Union?’” as that had been answered in the 2016 referendum.
Britain is to exit the EU in March. After weeks of both sides making positive noises about prospects of clinching a divorce deal and their future trading relationship, the mood turned sour on Thursday in Salzburg, Austria, when the bloc’s leaders, one by one, came out to criticize May’s Chequers plans.
A tacit agreement to try to offer her some support before she heads to what is going to be a difficult annual conference of her governing Conservative Party later this month was broken by some British diplomatic missteps.
May says she will hold her nerve in the talks, pressing the EU to come up with an alternative proposal to her Chequers plan, named after the prime minister’s country residence where a deal was hashed out with her top ministers in July.
But the impasse with the EU has prompted some to predict an early election, with local media reporting that May’s team has begun contingency planning for a snap vote in November to save both Brexit and her job.
Brexit minister Dominic Raab again ruled out a new election, describing the suggestion as “for the birds.” He said Britain would not “flit from plan to plan like some sort of diplomatic butterfly.”
“We are going to be resolute about this,” Raab added.
While saying she will stick to her guns, May might have little chance but to change tack after a party conference where the deep divisions over Europe that have riven her Conservatives for decades will be in plain sight.
A senior pro-EU Conservative lawmaker, Nicky Morgan, said May would have to give ground on trade and customs arrangements to overcome the biggest obstacle to a withdrawal accord — the prevention of a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and Ireland, a member of the EU.
“I am not sure there is life left in Chequers,” Morgan, chair of parliament’s Treasury Select Committee and a former cabinet minister under May’s predecessor, told Sky News.
“We want to see a deal. The question I think that has to be answered now by the government, by the EU leaders, is what room for movement is there, how do we move on from where we ended up last week?”