‘An invisible killer’: Beijing cleaned up its toxic air. Why can’t New Delhi?
More than 20 million people woke last week to a thick, acrid, and noxious smog that settled densely across the Indian capital.
Primary schools were forced to shut, vehicles restricted from traveling on roads and construction brought to a halt as a hazy gray enveloped New Delhi, blocking buildings from view and prompting residents to panic buy air purifiers.
Behind closed doors, state authorities and federal officials gathered to put together a plan that would clean up the city’s air after its Air Quality Index (AQI) passed 500 – a figure so high that experts warn it could be shaving more than a decade off the life expectancy of those who live there.
But the scene is hardly unprecedented.
Every year, New Delhi’s skies turn the same sickly yellow, prompting the same scramble by authorities to crackdown on the pollution. Every year, around this time, headlines about the issue dominate the news, reminding the country’s 1.4 billion people that smog season is back with a vengeance.
And every year, people ask why nothing has changed.
“It’s an invisible killer,” said Jyoti Pande Lavakare, author of “Breathing Here is Injurious to Your Health: The Human Cost of Air Pollution” and co-founder of clean air non-profit Care for Air.
“And unfortunately, there is just no political will to solve this problem from any party. There is not one party that has put its head down and said, ‘we are sickening the entire country and let’s fix it’.”The Akshardham temple is barely visible as smog envelopes New Delhi on November 9, 2023.
A success story
New Delhi’s current toxic skies are reminiscent of another major Asian capital that about a decade ago was famous for a smog so thick that it could shroud entire skyscrapers from view: