NEW DELHI: Residents of New Delhi woke up to grey skies on Friday as air quality plunged to hazardous levels the morning after Diwali, as people across the Indian capital defied a ban on firecrackers and celebrated the festival of lights throughout the night.
According to IQAir, a Swiss group that measures air quality levels based on the concentration of lung-damaging particulate matter known as PM2.5, Delhi, home to 30 million people, is the most polluted city in the world.
The concentration of PM2.5 stood at 999 per cubic meter in Delhi on Friday morning against the World Health Organization’s safe limit of 25.
"The air quality is in severe category on Friday," R. K. Jenamani of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) told Arab News. "This severe condition has come in the last 18 hours."
The System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR), an initiative by the Indian government to measure the quality of air in the capital city, said in a statement on Friday that "firework emissions on the night of Diwali degraded air quality from very poor to severe category and relief is expected only from the evening of 7th November."
Diwali is one of the most important festivals in India, during which Hindus celebrate the victory of good over evil, when mythical god Rama returned to his kingdom Ayodhya after spending 14 years in exile. As people traditionally mark the holiday with fireworks, the Supreme Court of India last month imposed a blanket ban on their use, but it was widely defied.
The effect of fireworks on Delhi’s air quality was coupled with the burning of stubble by in neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana as Diwali coincides with the end of harvest season and farmers prepare their fields for the next crop.
"Firecrackers have only spiked the situation and created a health emergency in Delhi and adjoining areas," New Delhi-based environmentalist Vimlendu Jha said. "It’s very unfortunate that we are living in COVID times when respiratory stamina is of ultimate necessity and we know that air pollution affects that stamina, and we actually went ahead and burst crackers."
Doctors in the capital region say they have observed an increase in respiratory cases since Thursday night.
"Since last night, I have admitted eight patients with crises due to increased respiratory issues with some needing oxygen as well," Dr. Mayank Saxena of the Yatharth hospital on the outskirts of Delhi told Arab News.
"Some of the normal people with no history of respiratory problems are having complaints. No doubt the dip in air quality has caused significant health worries among people in the national capital region," he said.
Ranjana Kumar, who lives in the Vikaspuri area of west Delhi, said she has been facing difficulty in breathing since last night.
"Despite the ban on firecrackers, people did not listen. As a result, we all are suffering. It's afternoon on Friday there is fog and the pollution level is high," she said. "Delhi has become unlivable in this time of year, but people like us cannot escape this environment."