Delhi, the capital territory of India, is suffering from air pollution so extreme that simply being outdoors could be harmful to people’s health.
Authorities in Delhi were forced to come up with ideas on how to combat air pollution in the city when pollution experts found that the air quality had fallen so low that residents ran the risk of developing chronic disorders.
Some of the possible disorders linked to high air pollution include lung disease, heart disease, general respiratory issues, and a higher mortality rate for people suffering from cardiopulmonary disease.
The worst of the air pollution findings came from PM 2.5 readings.
PM 2.5 readings measure the particulate matter that is less than 2.5 microns in diameter. The term micron is a unit of measurement used almost solely in scientific and tech fields to indicate something that is equal to one thousandth of a millimeter.
To put that in perspective, a single strand of human hair is approximately 50 microns wide.
When the particulate matter from the PM 2.5 readings is breathed in from the air pollution, it gets deep into the lungs causing irritation.
The World Health Organization released their readings in 2014 on air quality throughout 1,600 cities. Even then, Delhi had the highest amount of particulate matter that was smaller than 2.5 microns.
At that time, Delhi’s air pollution problem was already bad. The PM 2.5 readings for the 2014 WHO report averaged 153 units.
The results for Delhi shown next to some of the cities most notorious for lower air quality is shocking. New York was reported to have a reading of only 14 units, Los Angeles had 20 units and even Beijing clocked in with only 53 units.
It became obvious then that Delhi had a significant problem with air pollution, but nothing was done until recently when another reading of the PM 2.5 concentration levels showed that the number had risen to 285 units.
According to CNN, Delhi’s High Court exclaimed that the air pollution readings and conditions made it clear that residents were “living in a gas chamber.”
The government, at that time, was forced to start trying to consider ways to combat their air pollution problem quickly. So, they came up with the odd-even plan.
The odd-even plan limits the amount of cars on the road by restricting driving for half the population on alternate days. Cars with odd numbered registrations can drive one day and even numbered cars can drive the next.
Although the plan has potential, the government has made so many exceptions that experts remain unconvinced that it will be successful in lowering Delhi’s air pollution enough to make the city healthy again.
“The government has exempted women-only vehicles, two-wheelers, commercial taxis which are in considerable numbers. So they are targeting only about 5-6 per cent of cars and their pollution,” Vikrant Tongad, an expert with Delhi’s Social Action for Forest and Environment organization (SAFE), told IANS.
Despite experts like Tongad remaining wary of the possible success of the odd-even plan, residents of Delhi have been following the new rule and the PM 2.5 readings have gone down to 176 units.
Many experts are quick to indicate that not nearly enough effort is being made to increase the air quality.
“Despite the odd-even scheme having started and the number of cars on the roads going down, the pollution level has not been affected as the pollutants which have gathered in the air till today stay close to the ground in winter,” Tongad said. “They get trapped in the air.”
Not every expert agrees, though. Anumita Roychowdhury of the Center for Science and Environment, indicated to CNN that she believes it’s a not only a good start, but a great way to raise public awareness about air pollution.
Along with the odd-even plan, authorities in Delhi will be combating their air pollution problem by cleaning the dust off the streets and raising taxes for commercial trucks entering the area.
[Photo by AP Photo/Altaf Qadri]