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THE SHIELD

In photos: Anti-pollution masks are now an essential accessory in Delhi

By Sangeeta Tanwar

India’s capital city, New Delhi, has been engulfed in toxic air for several weeks now.

The city recorded an air quality index (AQI) of 460 yesterday (Nov. 14)—AQI between 401 and 500 is deemed “severe.”

Given these conditions, the sale of preventive products such as air purifiers, humidifiers, and anti-pollution masks is on the rise in the national capital region. As per some estimates, sales of such items have increased by 30% to 100% in India over the last six months, with most of the demand coming from Delhi National Capital Region (NCR).

Like the past several years, Delhi residents are reaching for anti-pollution masks, which are selling like hotcakes. Mask sales on Amazon India have grown 10 times in the past six months, and Flipkart has witnessed a tripling of sales over the year.

The types of masks available to Delhi residents vary from simple and essential to colourful and fancy. Options range from paper dust masks and white-cloth ones that would cost as low as Rs50 ($0.70) to designer products that cost upwards of Rs2,500.

REUTERS/ ADNAN ABIDI
School kids geared up for the day on a smoggy Nov. 7 morning.
REUTERS/ADNAN ABIDI
A young girl sports a floral protective mask.

Earlier this week, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority directed schools in Delhi-NCR to remain closed for two days due to the “health emergency” faced by the city given its pollution levels. In Delhi’s satellite cities of Gurugram and Noida, schools had been shut earlier this month for similar reasons.

REUTERS/ANUSHREE FADNAVIS
Children on a skywalk near the Delhi-Meerut Expressway on Nov 2.

Stubble burning on farms in some northern Indian states and pollution from firecrackers during Diwali are the key reasons for the worsening air quality in Indian cities, especially as winter approaches.

REUTERS/ANUSHREE FADNAVIS
A jogger in Noida on Nov. 14.
REUTERS/ANUSHREE FADNAVIS
Bangladesh’s cricket coaching team fight the smog during practice on Nov. 1 in New Delhi.
AP PHOTO/MANISH SWARUP.
Two-wheeler riders in the city on Nov. 7.
AP PHOTO/MANISH SWARUP
Bus commuters on Nov. 12.

Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, has said that the odd-even scheme of vehicle rationing, which was to end today (Nov. 15), may be extended. Under this scheme, first implemented in Delhi in 2016, odd and even-numbered vehicles ply on roads on alternate days, reducing traffic and air pollution, even if only marginally.

REUTERS/ANUSHREE FADNAVIS
Young boys battle the smog.

Visitors to the capital city have been struggling particularly.

AP PHOTO/MANISH SWARUP.
Foreign tourists visiting India Gate in New Delhi on Nov. 12.
REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
An employee of airBaltic walks inside an aircraft at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport.

On Nov. 13, the capital city had a rather embarrassing moment when air pollution hit “emergency” levels on the same day as Britain’s Prince Charles’ visit to the city. It was the second time in the past 10 days that the amount of PM 2.5, the deadly pollutants that get into the bloodstream and lungs, had hit “emergency” levels. Alarmingly, this was 20 times the safe limit set by the World Health Organization.

REUTERS/ALTAF HUSSAIN
Attendees wearing masks at a ceremony at the Delhi War Cemetery on Nov. 13 in which Britain’s Prince Charles took part.
REUTERS/ALTAF HUSSAIN
Another attendee at the Delhi War Cemetery ceremony on Nov. 13.

Like two-wheeler riders, public transport commuters, and pedestrians traffic police personnel are very vulnerable to the toxic air. Various government organisations are helping their staff cope with the crisis in their own small ways. For example, the Central Industrial Security Force, on Nov. 3, issued masks to its personnel deployed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport and Delhi Metro.

REUTERS/DANISH SIDDIQUI
A traffic policeman in New Delhi on Nov. 4.

Meanwhile, various student and civilian groups are carrying out awareness programmes and protest marches, demanding implementation of strict measures to curb pollution.

AP PHOTO/SHONAL GANGULY
Schoolchildren protest against the alarming levels of pollution outside the Indian environment ministry on Nov. 5.