World

Car use restricted as smog envelopes India and Pakistan

NEW DELHI India's capital banned all construction, barred lorries from entering the city and announced stringent restrictions on private car use yesterday as it seeks to combat a massive spike in pollution across large swathes of India and Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of schools in Delhi and surrounding states remained closed as a hazardous fog of toxic pollution cloaked the region for a third day.

There has been growing calls for urgent government action to tackle what doctors are calling a public health emergency.

"The situation in Delhi is so bad, and if the pollution can be brought down in any way, we will do it," the city's transport minister Kailash Gahlot told reporters as he announced plans to limit private car use to alternate days from next Monday.

Authorities in the city had earlier ordered a ban on all construction work and barred lorries from entering the city as public pressure on the government mounted.

Around 50,000 mostly diesel-fuelled lorries pass through India's capital every night and they are a major contributor to the pollution plaguing the city.

Low winds and the annual post-harvest burning of crop stubble in the northern farming states of Punjab and Haryana have caused the levels of dangerous pollutants in the air to spike to many times the levels considered safe.

Figures on the US embassy website showed that levels of PM2.5 - the smallest particulates that cause most damage to health - spiked at over 1,000 on Wednesday afternoon in Delhi, though by yesterday afternoon the level had fallen to 400.

The World Health Organisation's guidelines say 25 is the maximum level of PM2.5 anyone can safely be exposed to over a 24-hour period. It is the second year running that Delhi - now the world's most polluted capital with air quality worse than Beijing - has faced such high levels of PM2.5. - AFP

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