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Illustration by Security Management

Extreme Smog Season in India

New Delhi, India, residents have been trapped in a toxic smog for roughly a week.

The region's smog season is generated by emissions and the end of northwest India's harvest season, when thousands of farmers burn various leftovers from their crops to quickly clear the ground for the next growing season. This year, the haze has prompted school cancellations, limits on vehicle usage so that odd and even number license plates are allowed to drive on alternating days, delaying and diverting flights from the city's interational airport, and other emergency measures.

According to the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, the air pollution that wafts to Delhi is generated by the fires, a tactic preferred over more time-consuming ways to clear crop leftovers, "seasonal shifts in the weather make for ideal conditions to wrap Delhi … in a poisonous veil." The city is heavily populated, with roughly 19 million inhabitants, and arguably the most polluted worldwide, even outside of smog season.

This year's smog has sometimes been three times above the "hazardous"level on the global air quality index (AQI).

The city’s pollution is fueled by transportation, given by not only the sheer quantity of people driving (more than 10 million drivers as of 2018), but also because several automobiles on the road are older, built during a time when manufacturers were less concerned with emissions standards.

The additional smoke from farmers contains soot and greenhouse gases, as well as other compounds and particulates, all of which adds to the toxicity of the smog. According to CNN, the country's government dispatched approximately 300 teams to the region to enforce previously unsuccessful restrictions on illegal burning.

The World Health Organization considers outdoor or ambient air pollution as a major cause of death and disease worldwide.

"An estimated 4.2 million premature deaths globally are linked to ambient air pollution, mainly from heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections in children," the agency's website said. Ambient air pollution is responsible for an estimated 43 percent of all deaths and disease from COPD and 29 percent from lung cancer. "In children and adults, both short- and long-term exposure to ambient air pollution can lead to reduced lung function, respiratory infections, and aggravated asthma."