Indian capital Delhi gasps under choking smog

The reading for Delhi pollutants in the atmosphere hit 810 micrograms per cubic meter in Delhi on Sunday morning. (AFP)
Updated 03 November 2019

Indian capital Delhi gasps under choking smog

  • Every winter, the megacity of 20 million people is blanketed by a poisonous smog
  • The reading for pollutants in the atmosphere hit 810 micrograms per cubic meter Sunday morning

NEW DELHI: India’s capital New Delhi was enveloped in heavy, toxic smog Sunday — the worst levels in recent years — with flights diverted or delayed as politicians blamed each other for failing to tackle the crisis.
Every winter, the megacity of 20 million people is blanketed by a poisonous smog of car fumes, industrial emissions and smoke from stubble burning at farms in neighboring states.
Concentrations of particles measuring less than 2.5 microns hit the highest level of this season, exacerbated by light rains late Saturday, India’s state-run System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) said.
The reading for pollutants in the atmosphere hit 810 micrograms per cubic meter Sunday morning, beyond the “hazardous” zone according to the US embassy in Delhi, which independently monitors pollution levels.
The recommended World Health Organization safe daily maximum is 25.
“Pollution has reached unbearable levels,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted Sunday.
Visibility was so poor that major carriers Air India and Vistara said Sunday flights were being delayed or diverted to and from Delhi’s airports.
Some cricket players and coaches have also been training in masks ahead of the Twenty20 international between Bangladesh and India later Sunday.
“It’s actually scary — you can’t see things in front of you,” protester Jaivipra said at a rally in Delhi on Sunday calling for politicians to do more to curb pollution.
Nurses at the demonstration said they were seeing more people suffering from respiratory problems.
“Patients are coming with more lung and respiratory diseases, like more (are) affected with asthma,” Reshma C.M. said.
The conditions sparked a blame game between state and federal politicians over who was responsible for the conditions, which authorities said Friday reached “emergency” levels.
In a tweet last week, Kejriwal called on the state governments of neighboring Punjab and Haryana to take action.
“Delhi has turned into a gas chamber due to smoke from crop burning in neighboring states,” he tweeted.
Federal Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar accused Kejriwal of politicizing the issue and presenting the two states “in a bad light and as villains.”
Schools in Delhi have already been ordered closed until Tuesday, and construction halted From Monday there will be an odd/even car license plate scheme to cut traffic.
Global non-profit Vital Strategies’ senior vice president for environmental health, Daniel Kass, said while temporary curbs were helpful, they had limited impact over time.
“They are insufficient to address the most important aspect of air pollution, which is what people live with day-to-day,” Kass said.
He said a range of measures needed to be imposed at local and national levels for air quality to improve.
Apart from changing agricultural practices, he said the measures should include more public transport investment, emission controls on two-wheelers, switching electricity generation sources, and accelerating the conversion of home-heating from charcoal to natural gas.
Last year, a UN report found 14 of the world’s 15 most polluted cities were in India, with one US study saying it kills a million people prematurely every year.


Malaysia’s ruling party makes fresh push for Anwar to take over as PM

Updated 25 min 14 sec ago

Malaysia’s ruling party makes fresh push for Anwar to take over as PM

  • Mahathir Mohamad promised to hand over the reins to Anwar Ibrahim soon after laying the groundwork for a new administration
  • But says he may need more time to repair the damage left by the scandal-tainted government of his predecessor

MALACCA, Malaysia: Leaders of Malaysia’s ruling party on Sunday renewed a push for Anwar Ibrahim to lead the country, as Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad dithers on the timing of the planned power transition he had promised to his former rival-turned-ally.
Mahathir, elected to power in May 2018, had promised to hand over the reins to Anwar, 72, soon after laying the groundwork for a new administration.
But Mahathir has said he may need more time to repair the damage left by the scandal-tainted government of his predecessor, Najib Razak, while Anwar grapples with deep-seated factionalism within his own People’s Justice Party (PKR), the largest member of the ruling coalition.
“As far as I am concerned there has been clarity (that it will happen), except for the time,” Anwar told a news conference after PKR’s annual congress in Malacca, about 150 km from the country’s capital Kuala Lumpur.
“But let us work out an acceptable formula so that the transition is smooth and orderly.”
Hundreds of delegates were seen holding “Anwar PM-8” placards at Sunday’s congress, a year after he was elected the party’s president. PKR was formed 20 years ago to carry on Anwar’s reform agenda, after he was first jailed on what he has said were trumped-up charges of corruption and sodomy.
Anwar, who would be the country’s eighth premier should he take power, has been jailed twice, receiving a second sodomy conviction in 2015. He was granted a royal pardon last May.
Last week, Anwar denied fresh allegations that he had sexually assaulted a former male aide, describing the accusation as “politics at its worst.”
“This is not an ordinary annual conference. It is an important platform for Anwar to legitimize his position as the successor to Mahathir,” said Adib Zalkapli, a Malaysia director with political risk consultancy Bower Group Asia.
“He won the party leadership last year. This year, Anwar has to show that he is still in control of the party.”
But on Saturday, Anwar’s party deputy and perceived rival, Azmin Ali, led a walkout after delegates hit out at the president’s critics for allegedly trying to destabilize the party and challenge Anwar.
Azmin denied it was a boycott of the three-day meeting, insisting that their message was for the party to focus on governance and not be hung up on the power transition.
“When the people voted us in, the people wanted us to reform ... that should be the focus of the new government,” Azmin told reporters.