Delhi can learn from other megacities to clear its toxic smog.
Delhi must adopt anti-pollution steps taken by other megacities like Beijing and Mexico City if the Indian metropolis is to get serious about tackling its annual smog crisis, experts say. The causes of the problem include the poor quality of diesel used to generate electricity and to power the vehicles clogging the streets, dust and smoke thrown out by a thriving construction industry, and biomass and kerosene used by the poor for heating and cooking. Stubble-burning on farmland around the city, described by local officials this month as a "gas chamber", is also cited by experts as a major cause. At the moment, Delhi is the world's most polluted city in terms of air quality. Similar to other megacities, poorer residents are often worst-hit by air pollution, as they are most likely to live along busy highways or near power plants. They also tend to take jobs that are done outside, like street vending or labouring, providing little relief from the toxic fumes. Delhi residents breathe in three times as many fine particles that cause the greatest risk to health than the people of Beijing, another city notorious for high pollution levels that has begun to make strides in tackling its air problems. The Chinese capital still suffers from chronic pollution and congestion. But Beijing officials have created an air pollution action plan ushering in strict traffic curbs and regulations on the city's construction industry from November until March. "The structure of Beijing city, though much larger than Delhi, is similar," said an expert in urban air pollution. "Beijing has very successfully tackled this issue. It is do-able for India as well." For every $1 spent on improving air quality in cities, $30 is returned to an economy, said the expert. Despite this, Indian authorities have failed to get the message across to the poor about the health risks and causes of air pollution. Lists of the world's most polluted cities are usually dominated by Indian and Chinese cities. But 25 years ago, Mexico City would always rank near the top. Over the past decade, the high-altitude city - which still suffers from pollution and congestion - has tried different and unique ways to improve life for the 21mn people in its metropolitan region. Efforts to boost mobility in Mexico City really took off after the roll-out of a plan to connect the airport with the city centre - a journey of about 4 miles that used to take more than three hours - by expanding its bus rapid transit system. Mexico City has also created more bicycle lanes alongside a popular bike-sharing scheme. As in most Indian cities, the vast majority of residents do not drive cars, so improving the bus and pedestrian infrastructure would help, alongside implementing a bike-sharing scheme, introducing a permanent odd-even system, parking reforms and basic street redesign, experts said. Delhi would also benefit from large-scale investment in a mass transit system and the creation of an air pollution action plan using forecasts provided by the Indian meteorological department to prevent smog.
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