Air pollution hits 'unbearable' levels in northern India

November 4, 2019, 11:44 a.m.
​Foreign tourists wearing face masks visit the Taj Mahal under heavy smog conditions in Agra, India, on Nov. 4, 2019.
Photo: PAWAN SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images

Tourists visiting the Taj Mahal are bringing more than cameras with them when they head to the iconic 17th-century marble mausoleum in Agra, India. With air pollution in northern India reaching hazardous levels, visitors in Agra, New Delhi and surrounding areas are wearing face masks to protect themselves from the smog. It's reminiscent of Beijing's smog crisis not so long ago.

Levels of particulate matter reached about 60 times the global safety threshold in many areas over the weekend, The New York Times reports. That's like smoking more than two packs of cigarettes a day.

Authorities in the capital of New Delhi have put an "odd-even" driving plan in place, only allowing cars with odd-numbered license plates on the road on odd dates and cars with even-numbered plates on even-numbered dates, according to Reuters. The city government declared a public health emergency.

Low visibility caused more than 30 flights to be diverted on Sunday, the BBC reported. An advisory from the health minister suggested residents avoid outdoor physical activities, especially during morning and late evening hours. Residents were also encouraged to wear masks and keep doors and windows closed. Schools have been forced to close and construction has been stopped.

Air pollution has reached "unbearable levels" across the north of India, Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted.

Smog typically gets worse at this time of year as farmers start fires to prepare their land for sowing season. But this year's pollution is worse than normal, according to CNN.

Authorities are using air purifiers to protect the Taj Mahal.

"We are also keeping a strict vigil to ensure that people do not set fire to waste or do anything which causes pollution near the Taj," Bhuvan Yadav, of the state pollution board, told Reuters.