Delhi choked by smog as emergency steps fail to offer respite

Indian fitness enthusiasts work out amid heavy smog near India Gate in New Delhi on Monday, November 13, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 13 November 2017
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Delhi choked by smog as emergency steps fail to offer respite

NEW DELHI: A thick cloud of toxic smog 10 times the recommended limit enveloped India's capital New Delhi on Monday, as government officials struggled to tackle a public health crisis that is well into its second week.
A US Embassy measure showed levels of poisonous airborne particles, known as PM 2.5, had reached 495 on Monday morning, compared with the upper limit of “good” quality air at 50.
India’s weather office said the forecast rain over the next three days could help clear the smog. “Light rainfall is likely in states surrounding Delhi and in Delhi over the next three days, and this could result in a change in wind pattern in the region,” Charan Singh, a scientist at India Meteorological Department, told Reuters.
“Smog will start to abate starting tomorrow.”
The Delhi state government declared a public health emergency last week after pollution levels in the city spiked, a yearly phenomenon blamed on a combination of illegal crop burning in northern states, vehicle exhausts and dust.
Over the weekend, the government said it planned to use fire trucks to spray water in parts of the capital, but the moves have had little effect.
A senior federal government official said there was little more the government could do.
“We can only do this much, and now we will have to wait for rains to clean the atmosphere,” said Prashant Gargava, an official at the Central Pollution Control Board, a federal body.
Gargava said Delhi’s air has been consistently in the “hazardous” zone, despite measures such as a halt to construction and increasing car-parking charges four-fold to encourage people to use public transportation.
The PM 2.5 airborne particles are about 30 times finer than a human hair. The particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing respiratory diseases and other ailments. Hospitals in the capital have seen a spike in the number of patients coming in with respiratory complaints, according to media reports.
“Every second we are damaging our lungs, but we cannot stop breathing,” said Arvind Kumar, the head of the chest and lung surgery department at the Sir Ganga Ram hospital in the city.
United Airlines said it had resumed flights from Newark, New Jersey to New Delhi, India on Sunday, after suspending the service temporarily over concerns about poor air quality in the Indian capital.
State and federal governments decided to reopen schools on Monday after closing them temporarily for a few days last week. The move, however, is likely to add more vehicles on the road. Enforcement agencies said they were also unable to impose a blanket ban on movement of commercial trucks.
Aarti Menon, a teacher at a primary school in New Delhi, said her family was wearing masks even when they were indoors during the weekend.
“Not everyone can afford an air purifier or air-conditioned car. We are all living in hell,” said Menon, a mother of two teenage daughters.
The National Green Tribunal, an environment court, has directed the Delhi government and neighboring states to stop farmers from burning crop residue. But the federal and state governments have not been able to do so yet.
A New Delhi-based non-governmental organization, TARA Homes for Children, which supports 60 poor children, said it was seeking donations to buy at least five air purifiers. “Some of the children have breathing issues and couldn’t go to school,” said a volunteer at the NGO.


Sri Lanka troops launch major hunt for militants linked to suicide attacks

Updated 3 min 57 sec ago
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Sri Lanka troops launch major hunt for militants linked to suicide attacks

  • Several Colombo suburbs were targeted by troops using emergency powers on arrests and detentions adopted after the April 21 attacks
  • Security forces have arrested scores of suspects in connection with the bombings and over what appeared to be organized violence against the island’s Muslim minority

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s military launched a major hunt Saturday for remnants of an militant group which carried out the Easter suicide bombings that killed 258 people, officials said.
Several Colombo suburbs were targeted by troops using emergency powers on arrests and detentions adopted after the April 21 attacks.
“Special cordon-and-search operations are under way in three areas just outside Colombo,” a military official told reporters.
Similar operations were also carried out in the country’s north-west, where anti-Muslim riots this month left one man dead and hundreds of Muslim-owned shops, homes and mosques destroyed.
Security forces have arrested scores of suspects in connection with the bombings and over what appeared to be organized violence against the island’s Muslim minority.
While authorities say the immediate militant threat has been blunted, President Maithripala Sirisena on Wednesday extended for one month the 30-day state of emergency imposed after the suicide bombings.
Sirisena said the move was to maintain “public security,” with the country still on edge after the attacks on three hotels and three churches that were blamed on a local militant group, the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ).
The Daesh group has also claimed a role in the attacks.
Christians make up 7.6 percent and Muslims 10 percent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka.