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.

Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

Updated 21 January 2020

Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

  • Ex-president says Taliban offer to reduce violence a ‘major development’

KABUL: Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has urged President Ashraf Ghani to drop the pre-condition of cease-fire to begin talks with the Taliban amid high hope that the US and Taliban delegates will sign a deal following more than a year of secret discussions.

Speaking in an interview with BBC local service, Karzai said the government “should not block intra-Afghan dialogue under the pretext of cease-fire.” He said the Taliban offer for reduction in violence as the group says is nearing to ink the deal with American diplomats in Qatar, was a “major development.”

He said Ghani needed to accept the Taliban offer.

Ghani says truce is a must ahead of starting any negotiations with the Taliban calling reduction in violence a general term and arguing that such a call by the Taliban political leaders in Qatar only goes to show that they have control over field commanders back in Afghanistan.

The Taliban say the group will announce truce when the intra-Afghan dialogue begins which will happen after Washington sets timetable for withdrawal of the troops.

Washington at least on one occasion called off the talks with the Taliban in Qatar due to Taliban attacks back in Afghanistan as discussions continued in Qatar despite none of the warring sides having committed to halt offensives during the talks.

Ghani’s government has been sidelined from all rounds of talks between the Taliban delegates and US diplomats led by Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar. There has also been rift between Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with the president in the National Unity Government, on the pre-condition of cease-fire.

Unlike Ghani, Abdullah is happy with reduction of violence. Talking in a meeting of council of ministers, Abdullah on Monday indirectly said Ghani had taken the peace process in his monopoly.

 “Peace is not one person’s monopoly, one person’s wish — but it is a collective desire, and the people of Afghanistan have the right to take a position regarding the peace process,” said Abdullah.