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Asia Minute: Indian capital battles 'very unhealthy' air, sparking partial lockdowns

India Pollution smog new delhi 111821
Altaf Qadri/AP
Traffic moves amid a blanket of smog, caused by a mixture of pollution and fog in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. Air pollution remained extremely high in the Indian capital on Thursday, a day after authorities closed schools indefinitely and shut some power stations to reduce smog that has blanketed the city for much of the month. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

This has been a devastating couple of weeks for air pollution in the capital of India. New Delhi suffers from seasonal smog — but this month the air quality has been even worse than usual.

There are 11 coal-fired power plants within about 200 miles of India’s capital.

More than half of them are closed now. It’s a short-term move to slash air pollution.

Schools and colleges are closed — and there is no schedule to reopen them. That depends on air quality.

Friday morning local time, the Air Quality Index used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed scores of readings in the “hazardous” category in and around New Delhi.

That’s the worst of six levels — beyond one labelled “very unhealthy.”

All private construction in the city has been stopped — government workers are staying home.

Local officials have resorted to partial lockdowns this week — and the Supreme Court has shut down factories.

Seasonal factors include the cycle of agriculture.

Farmers burn their fields to clear the ground of stalks and stubble — making way for future plantings.

In some parts of New Delhi, fire crews have been spraying water at government-designated hot spots to try to clear the air.

There is some hope in the short term — weather.

The Times of India reports strong winds are expected to help push out some of the dirtiest air — with gusts picking up by Sunday.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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