Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"We've seen around a 30 to 35 percent increase of patients in the past couple of days."
"It wasn't like this five years ago. Children with respiratory problems are finding their issues are exacerbated. It affects everyone."
Anupam Sibal, group medical director, senior pediatrician, Apollo Hospitals, India

"United has temporarily suspended our Newark-Delhi flights due to poor air quality concerns in Delhi and currently has waiver policies in place for customers who are travelling to, from or through Delhi."
"We are monitoring advisories as the region remains under a public health emergency, and are co-ordinating with respective government agencies."
United Airlines
Smoke and ash billows from a volcano in Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland
Smoke and ash billow from the volcano in Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland. Photograph: Ingolfur Juliusson/Reuters
In 2010 and again in 2015 when Icelandic and Indonesian volcanoes erupted respectively, air traffic was suspended due to the ash and other particulate matter elevated by their explosions into the atmosphere and screening the skies for days and weeks. The threat to plane engines' intake of the particles ensured that airline safety came first, suspending flights. More recently United Airlines took similar steps, refusing to fly into New Delhi in India as a result of health concerns related to unremitting, thick and dangerous smog.

Visitors walk through the courtyard of Jama Masjid amid heavy smog in the old quarters of New Delhi. (Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)

The air quality in New Delhi ranks among the worst in the world, and that's saying quite a lot, given the reputation of Beijing so hugely dependent on energy generation through coal-burning furnaces for their industrial output. And China's industrial output as the entire world knows, is prodigious. China consciously sacrificed quality of life for its population as a temporary measure while it grew its industries. That temporary measure appears at this juncture to have become permanent. It is also a permanent embarrassment to the country which had to order all industries to temporarily shut down during the Olympics to produce a vision of the sun in a blue sky for a brief window of time.

In India, farmers recently having harvested their crops have been busy burning the fields, with the resulting smoke soaring into the atmosphere. The illegal burning of fields is an old technique that brings minerals back to the soil, but has other, obvious consequences in the diminishment of air quality in the process. Pollution from gas-burning vehicles where public transportation is absent, along with ongoing construction projects in the city, further exacerbate the compromised air.

Beijing's wholesale pollution was out-rivalled by New Delhi's last week, when the Delhi smog was ten times greater than Beijing's. In parts of New Delhi pollution registers 40 times the World Health Organization-recommended safe level for human health. Over six thousand schools were ordered to be closed. Trucks carrying essential supplies only are permitted into the city; all other vehicles restricted from entry, and a stop has been placed on construction projects. There was even talk of spraying water over the city in hopes of dissolving the toxic smog.

Residents of the city go about wearing face masks, hoping to protect themselves from the worst invasive effects from the grey haze. When they can, people remain indoors, with those who can afford it using air purifiers, the air-cleansing effects of indoor plants and closed windows to keep their air as clean as possible under the circumstances. Doctors warn of deaths in this city of 20 million inhabitants, particularly those of the most vulnerable, the children.

A study recently linked 2.5 million deaths in India's population of 1.3-billion people in 2015 to the effects of pollution. Concerned parents bring their coughing children into hospitals all around the city. Not everyone can afford expensive air purifiers. Those families who live in poverty share among themselves a few inexpensive gas masks in hopes of preventing the worst medical emergencies caused by the toxic smog spewing into their atmosphere, threatening their lives.

Indian commuters wear masks to protect themselves from the smog. (Sajjad Hussein/AFP/Getty Images)


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