The Smog Story

Shweta Gupta, MD, Senior Medical Adviser, discusses air pollution in Delhi and the measures taken to combat it. 

Since July, Delhi was privileged to witness good air quality with blue skies and bright sunshine. Come October, the sky in Delhi turns grey and sun rays struggle to reach us. Slowly pollution builds further in November and winds don’t help in clearing the smoke. It became difficult to estimate the time of the day by looking out of the windows. The first week of November was bleak and depressing, with no sun and smoke everywhere. We were forced to lock ourselves indoors as the air outside is toxic and not breathable. 


And again, the debate began, just like 2018, 2017 and so many previous years. The accusations, the political arguments, citizens blaming farmers for burning crop stubble and the government for not having effective alternatives, farmers lamenting lack of political support, government citing other air polluting sources beyond stubble burning. The public has been suffering, millions of us living in the plains of the northern India. Health related complaints started pouring in – allergies, cough, sneezes, respiratory infections, burning in the eyes and watering, breathing difficulties and probably many more ill effects of air pollution. Children, the elderly and those with known cardiac or respiratory conditions suffered even more.  



For the last couple of years, the government has been implementing the “odd-even rule” on private vehicles plying on roads. This year again, this scheme will be in place for a couple of weeks along with other measures like school closures and reducing industrial activity. The highest court in the country has also stepped-in, reminding the state governments of their responsibilities, almost like a teacher reprimanding stubborn children! 


Health authorities did come up with some useful tips for the public. These included avoiding strenuous activities outdoors and exercising indoors, avoiding main roads and congested areas, wearing a mask (only N95 respirators help), avoid open burning of waste and car pool as much as possible. 


However, India needs to do more to beat pollution all-round the year. We can also learn some lessons from China; Polluting power plants were scrapped, natural gas was used in homes instead of coal and investment on green energy has increased many folds. The quality data is published and forecasting air pollution is more accurate.  They issue smog alerts, according to their tiered response system, before the situation goes beyond control. A good example was how air pollution was forecasted and prevented in the country during Chinese New Year. 



Need more information on air quality? We at International SOS monitor air quality in New Delhi and other major locations globally. If you are a member, log in with your membership number at the International SOS Air Pollution website for latest news items, location specific information and travel advice. We also have a medical alert on the situation which gets updated regularly to keep you informed of the latest developments. 

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