After Diwali, Breathing New Delhi’s Air Right Now is the Equivalent of Smoking 45 Cigarettes a Day

It’s the usual nightmare in regions around the Indian capital the morning after Diwali. Celebrations have left Delhi enveloped in toxic smog like every year as air quality has plunged to a hazardous level in almost all localities.

In what has become a chronic condition for the city of 22 million, New Delhi is once again choking on extremely high levels of air pollution. In parts of the city, air quality index (AQI) readings have hit 999—the equivalent of smoking 45 cigarettes a day.

As of 7am today (Nov. 08), the air quality index at several areas in the city hit the maximum limit of 999—the healthy limit being 50—with heavy pollution from PM2.5 and PM10, particles with diametres under 2.5 micrometres and 10 micrometres, respectively.

PM2.5 is responsible for reducing average lifespans in Indian cities by 1.53 years. This makes PM2.5 almost as deadly as tobacco smoking.

Even before Diwali, Delhi’s air had already turned toxic. On Monday (Nov. 05), pollution levels hit 20 times the World Health Organization’s recommended limit as a result of a change in wind direction and lower temperatures.

Though Delhi routinely makes the lists of the world’s most polluted cities, the situation inevitably worsens at this time of year due to multiple reasons.

Farmers in neighbouring states such as Punjab and Haryana begin to burn crop residue, the smoke from which inevitably reaches Delhi, given its geographical location.

Slow wind speeds then keep the smoke suspended over the city. This is topped by the festival of lights as bursting massive amounts of firecrackers is a key part of the revelry.

Last month, India’s supreme court banned the sale of conventional firecrackers in the Delhi-National Capital Region and mandated a two-hour period for bursting “green crackers” only.

While celebrations were relatively muted this year, the Delhi police reportedly still filed cases against 1,000 people for breaching time restrictions.

Earlier this week, the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research, an initiative of the government’s ministry of Earth sciences, had forecast that even if Delhi halved the emissions from firecrackers compared to last year, the air would remain severely unhealthy for at least two days after Diwali.