Air quality sinks to ‘severe’ in haze-shrouded New Delhi

The smoke from fields mixes with vehicle emissions and construction dust, making New Delhi the world’s most-polluted capital. (AP)
Updated 12 November 2019

Air quality sinks to ‘severe’ in haze-shrouded New Delhi

  • The air quality index reached about eight times the recommended maximum
  • The smoke from fields mixes with vehicle emissions and construction dust, making New Delhi the world’s most-polluted capital

NEW DELHI: A thick gray haze blanketed India’s capital on Tuesday, with authorities attempting to reduce the pollution by sprinkling water to settle dust and banning some construction.
The air quality index exceeded 400, considered “severe” and about eight times the recommended maximum, according to the state-run Central Pollution Control Board.
Buildings and monuments in New Delhi were largely obscured by the haze and residents complained of health effects.
“We can’t breathe properly. My eyes are burning,” said Urmila Devi, who lives in Ghaziabad, one of the capital’s most polluted areas.
Favorable winds had briefly halved the level of pollutants, but winds blowing from the northwest carried air-borne particles from burning crops in Punjab and Haryana states to New Delhi, leading again to high levels of pollution, according to the government’s air quality monitoring system, SAFAR.
Air pollution in northern India peaks in the winter due to smoke from agricultural fires. Farmers say they are unfairly criticized and have no choice but to burn stubble to prepare their fields for the next crop.
The smoke from fields mixes with vehicle emissions and construction dust, making New Delhi the world’s most-polluted capital.
Rising pollution levels have also irked foreign visitors, with some saying they plan to cut short their trips because of health concerns.
“We are in the capital of India. The government should put more effort into tackling this problem,” said Rijil Odamvalappil of Abu Dhabi, who was visiting New Delhi with his wife.
Some residents say the pollution is so bad that it should be the most important issue for the government.
Pollution controls have been imposed, such as sprinkling water from high-rises and banning some construction to settle or avoid dust, but the capital’s poor air quality has continued amid calls for the government to do more to address the root causes.
Restrictions on private vehicles meant to reduce emissions were relaxed on Monday and Tuesday for the 550th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion.
Doctors in the city of 20 million people say many of their patients are complaining of ailments related to the filthy air they breathe.
New Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, has made fervent appeals on Twitter and in newspaper advertisements for residents to help tackle the pollution problem.
India’s top court last week asked the city government, its neighboring states and the federal government to work together to improve air quality.
World Health Organization data released last year showed India had 10 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities.


Taliban attacks ‘damaging’ peace process, says Afghan govt

Updated 43 min 41 sec ago

Taliban attacks ‘damaging’ peace process, says Afghan govt

  • Spokesman for insurgent group accuses Kabul of making ‘excuses’ to delay talks

KABUL: Afghanistan’s government on Sunday accused the Taliban of increasing its attacks, casting doubt on future negotiations with the insurgent group.

A promise of future peace talks was part of a historic peace deal signed in February between the Taliban and the US in Doha, Qatar. But negotiations have already been delayed twice because of disagreements between President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the Taliban. The talks were expected to pave the way for a total withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan by next year.

In a series of tweets on Sunday, Sediq Sediqqi, Ghani’s chief spokesman, said the “intensification of violence by the Taliban lately,” which also claimed civilian lives, “damages hopes for the start of the talks and stable peace in the country.”

It follows a statement by Hamdullah Mohib, Ghani’s national security adviser, who said in a statement last night that the escalation of Taliban attacks was the “main cause for the postponement of the talks.”

He said: “The Taliban have intensified their violence in many parts of Afghanistan, disrupting the process of direct talks and making it harder.”

Mohib’s spokesman, Javid Faisal, said on Saturday that in the past week alone, the Taliban had staged attacks in 16 of the country’s 34 provinces, resulting in the deaths of at least 23 civilians.

He did not give an estimate of casualties sustained by government forces. However, official data released last month showed that hundreds of army and police personnel died during Taliban attacks in June.

The Taliban has rejected the claims of the government. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid blamed Kabul for several strikes which “led to the fatalities among non-combatants.”

These include a rocket attack at a cattle market in southern Helmand in June, where human rights groups say dozens of civilians, including children, were killed.

“A political solution is the only alternative that we have for ending the war and changing the situation in Afghanistan. No hindrance should be created against this,” Mujahid told Arab News on Sunday.

He accused Kabul of blocking the start of peace talks by not releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners, a condition demanded by the insurgent group ahead of negotiations.

While Kabul has freed over 4,000 Taliban prisoners, it said last week that it would not release 600 of them, “as they had committed various types of crimes.”

Mujahid described the government move as “one excuse after the other.”

He said: “The release of the rest of the prisoners is a must. If the process of release of prisoners is not completed, the talks cannot begin, and there is a possibility that fighting will intensify and then we will have to settle the conflict through military means.”

Experts warn that Ghani’s government is under increasing pressure.

Former diplomat and analyst Ahmad Saeedi said Ghani is under pressure from Washington, which “wants to show that it is keen to conduct talks, but from the other side wants this process to continue for five years,” until Ghani’s term ends.

“Ghani wants the Taliban to join his government, while the Taliban consider his government fragile, arguing that if he does not engage in talks, then they will take power by force after the US pulls out troops,” Saeedi said.

Another analyst, Taj Mohammad, said the lack of progress in setting a fixed time for the talks was a blow for the peace process and “showed that the actual negotiations would be highly complicated and difficult.”