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.”


Beijing dismisses ‘hearsay’ on Muslim internment

Updated 17 min 56 sec ago
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Beijing dismisses ‘hearsay’ on Muslim internment

  • Critics say China is seeking to assimilate Xinjiang’s minority population and suppress religious and cultural practices that belong in the minority
  • Beijing has repeatedly described the camps as vocational “training centers” that were built to help people drawn to extremism

BEIJING: China defended its internment of Muslims in the country’s northwest as a terror prevention measure on Tuesday, calling on the international community to reject “hearsay” and believe its official line.
Up to a million Uighurs and other Chinese Turkic-speaking minority groups have been placed in political re-education camps in the Xinjiang region, according to a group of experts cited by the United Nations.
After originally denying the existence of the centers, Beijing has repeatedly described the camps as vocational “training centers” that were built to help people drawn to extremism to stay away from terrorism and allow them to be reintegrated into society.
But the program has faced rising criticism outside the country — notably from the United States and human rights groups.
“We hope our journalist friends and our other foreign friends will take into consideration the information and briefings on the situation given by the Chinese authorities,” said China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
“Rumours and hearsay should not be believed,” he said standing next to his German counterpart Heiko Maas at a press conference.
“It’s quite clear that the government in Xinjiang knows best what is happening in Xinjiang — not other people and third party organizations.”
Critics say China is seeking to assimilate Xinjiang’s minority population and suppress religious and cultural practices that conflict with Communist ideology and the dominant Han culture.
Former inmates of the camps say they were detained for having long beards or wearing the veil.
Attacks attributed to Uighurs have left hundreds dead over the last few years in China, many of them in Xinjiang, where Beijing says its concerned about a rise in Islamic radicalism.
The authorities have put in place intrusive measures of security — ubiquitous surveillance cameras, DNA sampling, home visits by officials and GPS trackers in cars.
“We call that a combination of repression and prevention. But we place the priority on prevention. If it’s done well, terrorism won’t expand and take root. It’s the most effective way to combat terrorism,” Wang Yi said.
The German foreign minister did not mention the Xinjiang region at the press conference, but did say he had “spoken on the question of human rights” during his closed meeting with his Chinese counterpart.
A debate on the situation in Xinjiang was held in the German parliament last Thursday.
China’s ambassador to Berlin expressed Beijing’s “profound discontent” and put in an official protest following the “blatant interference” in its “domestic affairs.”