Sparks fly as Delhi fireworks set off ‘hazardous’ smog alert

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An air quality index monitor shows an air quality reading in New Delhi on Thursday, November 8. (AFP)
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A sweeper cleans a road amid heavy smog in New Delhi on Thursday, November 8, a day after the Diwali festival. (AFP)
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Commuters travel amid heavy smog in New Delhi on Thursday, November 8, a day after Diwali celebrations. (AFP)
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A man cycles near the Indian President’s house amid heavy smog in New Delhi on Thursday, November 8, after a night of free-for-all Diwali fireworks. (AFP)
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Each year, smoke from festival firecrackers significantly adds to pollution levels in Delhi and its satellite cities. (Reuters)
Updated 09 November 2018
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Sparks fly as Delhi fireworks set off ‘hazardous’ smog alert

  • Two of the federal government’s indices showed pollution levels at ‘very poor’ and ‘severe’
  • These indices measure the concentration of tiny poisonous particulate matter

NEW DELHI: Fireworks celebrations marking the popular Hindu festival of Diwali lifted air pollution levels in New Delhi and surrounding areas to “hazardous” levels on Thursday. According to the website AirVisual, which monitors air pollution worldwide, the air quality index (AQI) reached 980 in the early hours of the morning, making India’s capital the most polluted city in the world.
An AQI below 50 is considered safe, while a reading above 300 is viewed as hazardous.
The Supreme Court had issued a ruling restricting the use of fireworks on Diwali night to two hours. However, many people defied the court order, with fireworks explosions leaving the capital blanketed in thick smog.
“It’s a matter of concern, but we hope that in time we will be able to bring the pollution levels down,” said Prasant Gargava of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), a government agency working under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
New Delhi residents and commuters, who are worst affected by the smog, rarely wear face masks, while many households still lack air purifiers. The lack of attention paid to toxic air stems partly from ignorance, apathy and crushing poverty, pollution activists say.
Government and local politicians have failed to effectively address the problem, according to social scientists and political analysts.
Polash Mukherjee, of the New Delhi-based Center of Science and Environment, told Arab News that “since Wednesday evening, air quality started deteriorating due to adverse weather conditions and excessive combustion. Fireworks celebrations worsened the situation.
“There are (some sections) of the government that are serious about addressing the pollution issue. The government, however, as a unit has not shown necessary commitment to tackle the problem.”
“Lack of social responsibility among people is also an issue. People talk about pollution, but at the same time keep on having three or four cars and violate the court and the government orders,” added Mukherjee.
V. Selvarajan, secretary of Green Circle, a group that campaigns on environmental issues, said: “Air pollution is a toxic mix of vehicle exhaust, smoke from burning crops from the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana, and dust coming out of the thousands of construction sites. The pollution is intensified by winter weather patterns.”
He added: “Lifestyle changes are important for a solution. People in New Delhi believe in temporary solutions such as air filters, purifiers, instead of addressing the issue of air pollution which is mostly man-made. Car-pooling must be made mandatory.”
Meanwhile, daily life in the capital has been badly affected. Rahul Shukla, a jogger for many years, has stopped going outdoors. “The air quality affects your breathing and you feel restless while running. It is safer to be inside than outside,” he said.
Shukla, a lawyer, told Arab News that “if I don’t take care, my throat may bear the brunt of bad air quality and may affect my professional well-being.”
Dr. Bobby Bhalotra of the New Delhi-based Sir Gangaram Hospital said that “in recent days there has been a spike in cases of breathing problems, chest congestion and lung issues.”
The specialist in chest medicine said that “children are the worst sufferers. Their lungs are badly affected and this can have long-term implications, and might lead to cancer and other diseases.”


France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

Updated 19 May 2019
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France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

  • His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent
  • In his country, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron sees himself as Europe’s savior and next week’s European Parliament elections as a make-or-break moment for the beleaguered European Union.
But Macron is no longer the fresh-faced force who marched into a surprising presidential victory to the rousing EU anthem two years ago. His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent. And at home, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies.
Macron wanted the May 23-26 European Parliament elections to be the key moment that he could push his ambitions for a stronger Europe — but instead, nationalists and populists who criticized the 28-nation bloc could achieve unprecedented success.
They argue that EU leaders have failed to manage migration into the continent and remain out of touch with ordinary workers’ concerns.
“We have a crisis of the European Union. This is a matter of fact. Everywhere in Europe, when you look at the past five to six years, in our country but in a lot of countries, all the extremes, extreme-rights, are increasing,” Macron said Thursday, making an unexpected appeal for European unity on the sidelines of a technology trade show.
“On currency, on digital, on climate action, we need more Europe,” he said. “I want the EU to be more protective of our borders regarding migration, terrorism and so on, but I think if you fragment Europe, there is no chance you have a stronger Europe.”
In person, the 41-year-old Macron comes across as strikingly, sincerely European. A political centrist, he’s at ease quoting Greek playwrights, German thinkers or British economists. France’s youngest president grew up with the EU and has been using the shared European euro currency his whole adult life, and sees it as Europe’s only chance to stay in the global economic game.
Macron has already visited 20 of the EU’s 28 countries in his two years in office, and while he acknowledges the EU’s problems, he wants to fix the bloc — not disassemble it.
Macron won the 2017 presidential election over France’s far-right, anti-immigration party leader Marine Le Pen on a pledge to make Europe stronger to face global competition against the Unites States and China. Since then, he’s had to make compromises with other EU leaders — and clashed with some nations where populist parties govern, from Poland to neighboring Italy.
Four months after his election, Macron outlined his vision for Europe in a sweeping speech at Paris’ Sorbonne university, calling for a joint EU budget, shared military forces and harmonized taxes.
But with Brexit looming and nationalism rising, Macron has had to reconsider his ambitions. He called his political tactics with other EU leaders a “productive confrontation.”
“In Europe, what is expected from France is to clearly say what it wants, its goals, its ambitions, and then be able to build a compromise with Germany to move forward” with other European countries, Macron said last week.
Macron stressed that despite her initial reluctance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed last year to create a eurozone budget they hope will boost investment and provide a safety mechanism for the 19 nations using the euro currency.
In March, Macron sought to draw support for a Europe of “freedom, protection and progress” with a written call to voters in 28 countries to reject nationalist parties that “offer nothing.”
And he proposed to define a roadmap for the EU by the end of this year in a discussion with all member nations and a panel of European citizens.
“There will be disagreement, but is it better to have a static Europe or a Europe that advances, sometimes at different paces, and that is open to all?” he asked.
France and Germany are the two heavyweights in Europe, and Macron can also count on cooperation from pro-European governments of Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and others.
He has made a point, however, of not yet visiting Hungary or Poland, two nations led by populist leaders whom Macron accused last year of “lying” to their people about the EU.
France has also been entangled in a serious diplomatic crisis with Italy over migration into Europe. Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly criticized Macron and is backing his rival Le Pen’s National Rally party in the election this week that aims to fill the European parliament’s 751 seats.
Macron has little chance to repeat Europe-wide what he did in France: rip up the political map by building a powerful centrist movement that weakened the traditional left and right.
The campaign for Macron’s Republic on the Move party is being led by former European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau under a banner called “Renaissance.” The party wants to associate with the pro-market ALDE alliance to create new centrist group at the European Parliament.
But across the continent, the centrists are not expected to come out remotely on top but rank third or even lower behind the parliament’s traditional two biggest groups, the right-wing European People’s Party and the left-wing Socialists and Democrats group.
Even at home, Macron is far from certain of being able to claim victory in the European vote. Polls suggest his party will be among France’s top two vote-getters in the election, which takes place in France on May 26.
But its main rival, the far-right National Rally party, is determined to take revenge on Macron beating Le Pen so decisively in 2017.
Macron’s political opponents across the spectrum are calling on French voters to seize the European vote to reject his government’s policies.
While he won 64% of the presidential vote in 2017, French polls show that Macron’s popularity has been around half that for the past year.
It reached record lows when France’s yellow vest movement broke out last fall, demanding relief from high taxes and stagnant wages for French workers, then slightly rose as extensive violence during yellow vest protests, especially in Paris, dampened support for the movement’s cause.
Still, the yellow vests are not going away. New protests against Macron and his government are planned for the EU election day.