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.

Dhaka awaiting UN green light to relocate 100,000 Rohingya to $275m island

Updated 22 January 2020

Dhaka awaiting UN green light to relocate 100,000 Rohingya to $275m island

  • Nearly 30,000 refugees volunteer for move to Bay of Bengal camp which critics fear is in cyclone zone

DHAKA: Authorities in Bangladesh were on Tuesday still awaiting the green light from UN inspectors to start the controversial relocation of 100,000 Rohingya refugees to a newly built $275 million island camp.

Although Dhaka has insisted the tiny island of Bhasan Char is ready to begin receiving families, UN technical experts have yet to carry out health and safety checks.

“Although everything is ready on the ground, we are yet to fix a date to begin the relocation process,” Shah Kamal, senior secretary of the Bangladeshi Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, told Arab News. 

A UN team had been scheduled to visit the island in November last year to assess the safety of facilities and amenities on offer, but the inspection was postponed after Bangladesh asked the UN to explain the reasons for the checks.

“The UN is yet to finalize its technical expert team. Once it has, we will organize the assessment visit,” Kamal said.

Bhasan Char is located in the Bay of Bengal and was formed with Himalayan silt in 2006. In recent months, several international rights organizations have urged Bangladesh not to relocate the Rohingya to the island due to it being in an area prone to cyclones.

Bangladeshi authorities claim it is safe and includes barracks to house the refugees, cyclone centers, schools, hospitals, mosques, community centers, and children’s playgrounds.

However, following the international pressure, Dhaka said it would only move refugees who had volunteered for the initiative. “So far, we have enrolled 5,200 families who have registered voluntarily for the relocation and the total refugee number will be around 30,000,” Kamal added.

The UN says it has already sent details to the Bangladeshi government regarding the technical team’s visit to the island. 

“We are awaiting confirmation from the government regarding alternative dates, as we have shared relevant information with the government of Bangladesh regarding the objectives of the proposed onsite visits, which are part of a broader assessment process,” Louise Donovan, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News. 

“The UN has emphasized the importance of undertaking independent and thorough technical and protection assessments that consider safety, sustainability, and protection issues prior to any relocation taking place. The assessment process should include onsite visits to Bhasan Char,” she added. 

Bangladesh has already spent $275 million to construct the facilities on the island and make it habitable for the Rohingya.

The country currently hosts more than 1,150,000 Rohingya in overcrowded camps at Cox’s Bazar which the UN describes as the largest refugee settlement in the world. Around 750,000 of them have fled from the state of Rakhine, in Myanmar since August 2017 following a brutal military crackdown by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya people.