Toxic air is choking New Delhi, closing schools and colleges, forcing cars off the road and prohibiting planes from landing at the airport.
The pollution is so bad that it can be seen from space.
The 20 million residents of New Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted cities, have suffered for weeks under a toxic haze that’s up to 10 times worse than the upper limits of what’s considered healthy.
“I have a headache every day I wake up. It’s suffocating to breathe sometimes. And inflammation in the nostrils and all. And eyes also. Like it kind of burns,” Ankusha Kushi, a student, told the Agence France-Presse news agency.
A public health emergency has remained in place in the city for the past five days as the air pollution is at its highest level in more than three years.
Every winter, the city is blanketed by a poisonous smog of car fumes, industrial emissions and smoke from stubble burning at farms in neighboring states.
Experts said breathing the air in New Delhi is equal to smoking 50 cigarettes a day.
Dr. Salil Sharma, a throat specialist, said 95% of the patients he has treated over the past 10 days are sick because of the foul air.
“I have patients from all age groups, and most of them are nonsmokers who complain of breathlessness, chest congestion, fatigue and weakness,” Sharma said. “In some cases, I had to put some patients on a ventilator because they couldn’t breathe.
“We are right in the middle of a health emergency,” he said.
More than 30 flights were rerouted Sunday because the pilots could not see to land, the Weather Channel reported. Private cars can be on the road only on alternate days.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said last week that the city had been “turned into a gas chamber due to smoke from crop burning,” CNN reported. Fireworks set off during Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, add even more smoke to the air, and calmer winter winds do not clear it very well.
Some people distraught over the pollution consider leaving the city for good.
Devendra Verma, a street vendor, did not go to work for three days last week. He said he was too weak to leave his house as filthy air made him feel fatigued.
“The city is not livable anymore,” he said. “Sometimes I think I should pack my bags and leave Delhi for once and all.”
According to the United Nations, 14 of the world’s 15 most polluted cities are in India.
Contributing: The Associated Press