Residents of Delhi-NCR have been choked by the blanket of smog that has covered the capital. It’s been almost a week and the national capital has been engulfed in smog leading to shutting down of schools, road accidents, flight delays, etc.
Hospitals are witnessing a huge influx of patients complaining of respiratory problems. Doctors at the government-run Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute say patient numbers have increased by three times since pollution levels spiked amid a change in weather conditions and the annual post-harvest burning of crop stubble in surrounding areas.
Shopkeeper Manoj Khati said he initially dismissed his heaving cough but it grew gradually worse and he has now been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis.
“For three days I haven’t stopped coughing, I felt as though I would die,” the 46-year-old told AFP as he waited to undergo further tests.
Levels of PM2.5 – the fine pollution particles linked to higher rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease – regularly topped 500 this week, at one point going over 1,000.
Levels between 301 and 500 are classified as “hazardous”, while anything over 500 is beyond the official index.
The World Health Organization’s guidelines say 25 is the maximum level of PM2.5 anyone can safely be exposed to over a 24-hour period.
Mansi Verma, a doctor at the emergency ward of the hospital, said they had seen a huge spike in patients suffering from respiratory problems.
Despite the rise in emergency cases, Arvind Kumar, a respiratory diseases specialist at the private Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi, said many of the worst health effects would not be seen for years to come.
“Pollution kills you slowly,” he said.
“Whatever toxins levels we are exposed to today, suppose it continued for 10 days, this would have shortened the life of each one of us by several days or several weeks.
“But that effect will be noticed many, many years later, so it’s not an immediate killer. And that’s why its potential lethal value is not immediately appreciated, but nonetheless, it’s a lethal killer.”
Delhi is now the world’s most polluted capital according to a World Health Organization survey conducted in 2014, with levels regularly exceeding those in Beijing.