Delhi is one of the most heavily polluted cities in the world. By a recent estimate, living there shaves over nine years off your life expectancy – and right now, the smog covering it is practically nightmarish. This massive metropolis has been called a “gas chamber” by a top Indian government representative.
Emergency helicopters designed to spray the smog and force some of the pollutants out of the air were about to be launched, but they’ve hit a rather ridiculous snag: the smog is so thick and impenetrable that they can’t fly in these conditions.
The managing director of the state-owned helicopter company tasked with dispersing the smog told The Indian Express: “Right now, with the prevailing smog, it is not possible for the helicopters to carry out operations. We have communicated the same to the Delhi government.”
The mixture of traffic fumes, burning crops, industrial emissions, and dust from construction work – along with some rather stagnant air – has led to the buildup of a deadly fog that is so thick it’s being considered a hazard on par with a natural disaster by some. For a time, United Airlines had canceled flights to the city for this very reason.
As of last week, the smog in Delhi was 10 times worse than that of Beijing, a city infamous for so-called smogpocalypses that essentially block out the light from the Sun. Parts of the New Delhi district featured particulate levels over 40 times that of the World Health Organization’s recommended safe levels.
At this stage, then, it’s not clear whether this public health emergency could be effectively mitigated by spraying water. The concentration of pollutants and dust is so high that really, the problem needs to be treated at its source, not dealt with after the fact.
Sadly, this looks unlikely to happen anytime soon. Thanks to rapid industrialization, poor regulatory standards, an unwillingness to turn away from coal, crop, and wood burning practices – along with a lack of effort on the national government’s part – India is one of the most polluted places on the planet.
On average, someone living there has four years of their life taken away because of this, but individual cities can be far worse. Delhi remains at the top of this ignominious list, but plenty of other cities, including the famous Agra, also feature pollution so severe that people are dying 7 to 8 years prematurely.