India’s capital New Delhi announced several measures to combat the crippling smog and air pollution that has engulfed the city, including closing down schools, halting construction and dousing all roads with water, according to a report by NBC News.
New Delhi, considered one of the world’s most polluted cities, saw levels of PM2.5 – tiny particulate matter that can clog lungs – increase more than 900 micrograms per cubic meter on Saturday. That’s 90 times more than the level regarded as safe by the World Health Organization, and 15 times more than the Indian government’s norms.
The Centre for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based research and lobbying organization, stated that government data shows that the smog covering the city for the last week is the worst in 17 years.
Arvind Kejriwal, New Delhi’s chief minister, told reporters on Sunday after an emergency meeting:
Schools would be shut for three days, and all construction and demolition activity halted for at least five days.
Kejriwal also said that a coal-fueled power plant on the border of the city would be shut down for 10 days.
Other measures announced include a 10-day ban on the use of all diesel-powered electricity generators, with the exception of hospitals and cellphone towers. All major roads in the city will also be vacuumed clean once a week, starting Thursday.
Kejriwal added that a major contributor to the city’s pollution is crop fires in neighboring states. At the start of every winter season, farmers in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab begin to burn straw from rice paddy crop to clear the fields for planting wheat.
New Delhi’s government has tried a handful of methods to control air pollution over the last few years. The city has implemented stricter emission norms for cars, as well as a tax on diesel-fueled trucks. It also banned the burning of leaves and garbage in the city.
Earlier this year, New Delhi also reduced the number of cars on the roads during the winter months. The city imposed a two-week period in which vehicles were only allowed on the roads on odd or even days, depending on the car’s plate number.