Why Is Delhi’s Air Quality so Poor?

When you step outside in the morning during a visit to Delhi, you will see clouds of smothering dust and smoke descending on the city. It tends to get worse during the winter months, but the problem in 2019 reached emergency levels.

The Chief Minister of the city went on Twitter to describe the conditions. “Delhi has turned into a gas chamber due to smoke from crop burning in neighboring states.”

Conditions are so problematic in Delhi that schools are closing, flight cancellations are routine, and a public health emergency is in effect. The air quality index monitors show that people are breathing air that is 50 times dirtier than what the World Health Organization deems to be a minimum safe level.

A Day of Breathing in Delhi is like Smoking 50 Cigarettes

Air pollution surges in Delhi are not uncommon, but the outcomes are becoming much worse. It’s an issue that all of India faces. The World Health Organization ranks the most-polluted urban areas in the world each year, and 11 out of the 12 worst global cities are all in India.

Agricultural burning has a significant impact on the air quality of Delhi and other cities, but it isn’t the only reason why pollution levels are so high. Homes use wood and coal for cooking, heating, and similar activities. Forest fires lead to dust storms that impact almost the entire country.

The mountainous geography of India doesn’t help matters either. The various summits and valleys act as basins that can trap toxic air in specific spots for months at a time. 

It can get so bad some days that the air is too dangerous even to breathe.

How Did Things Get so Bad in India?

It’s a combination of poverty, urbanization, and industrialization coming together to create a perfect storm of problems.

Poor governance by the Indian government is another significant factor. Lax standards and enforcement are in place for construction activities, car exhaust, and agricultural work. That means the particulate levels tend to be high, leading to potential health problems in the future.

The marble walls of the Taj Mahal used to be white. Because of the pollution in the region, they are now green. Over 1.1 million people died in 2015 due to this problem, and the statistics continue to tell a bleak tale.

Unless the government is willing to set and enforce stricter regulations, this issue is only going to get worse.