Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we are learning about the things that are causing the Smog in Delhi, India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
The air quality in Delhi, the capital territory of India is according to a survey of 1,650 world cities the worst of any major city in the world. Air pollution and smog in India is estimated to kill about 1.5 million people every year and it is the 5th largest killer in India. India has the world's highest death rate from chronic respiratory diseases and 'Asthma' and in Delhi, poor quality air irreversibly damages the lungs of 2.2 million or 50 percent of all children.
The air quality in Delhi, the capital territory of India is according to a survey of 1,650 world cities the worst of any major city in the world. Air pollution and smog in India is estimated to kill about 1.5 million people every year and it is the 5th largest killer in India. India has the world's highest death rate from chronic respiratory diseases and 'Asthma' and in Delhi, poor quality air irreversibly damages the lungs of 2.2 million or 50 percent of all children.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Phoographer
– Updated on March 21, 2024

Smog in Delhi

Smog in Delhi today is an ongoing severe air-pollution event in New Delhi and adjoining areas in the National Capital Territory of India. Air pollution in 2017 peaked on both PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels. In the above photograph pictured by the photographer a dense toxic smog in New Delhi blocks out the Sun while people and other pedestrians are walking in the city. Years later Delhi's chief minister has also described the city as a 'Gas chamber'.

What is smog?

Smog is a kind of air pollution, originally named for the mixture of smoke and fog in the air. Classic smog results from large amounts of coal burning in an area and is caused by a mixture of smoke and sulfur dioxide. Smog is a problem in a number of cities and continues to harm human health.

One of the most dangerous forms of pollution in India
India is one of the most populous countries in the world and is facing one of the most serious environmental issues of our times, which is pollution. India is facing a huge problem due to air, water and soil pollution. Pollution has become a major problem in India and it is a cause of major concern for the government and citizens alike. Air pollution is one of the most dangerous forms of pollution in India.

According to the World Health Organization, India is the world's most polluted country with the highest levels of particulate matter in the air. This is mainly due to the burning of coal and other fossil fuels in power plants, factories and vehicles. The burning of these fuels emits a variety of pollutants such as dust, smoke, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter into the air, which can cause a range of health problems for people.

Water pollution is also a major issue in India
The rivers, lakes and other water bodies in India are contaminated with various pollutants from industrial waste, sewage, fertilizers, household waste and chemical runoff from industries. These pollutants can cause a range of health problems such as water-borne diseases and contamination of drinking water. Soil pollution is another major environmental issue in India. The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture has led to the contamination of soil. These chemicals can leach into the water table and contaminate drinking water, which can cause a range of health problems.

The government of India has taken several measures to reduce pollution in the country. These include the implementation of stricter laws and regulations, setting up of pollution control boards, promoting renewable energy sources and encouraging the use of cleaner technologies. However, more needs to be done to reduce pollution in India. Citizens need to be made aware of the dangers of pollution and the need to take steps to reduce it. Governments need to invest more in renewable energy sources and clean technologies. The Government of India also needs to ensure that industries and factories comply with pollution control laws and regulations. Pollution is an urgent problem in India and it is important that the government and citizens alike take steps to reduce it. Only then can India become a clean and healthy country.

Air quality index of Delhi

The air of Delhi is divided into four categories and the first is Moderate, which are 101-200 level between January to September and then it drastically deteriorates to 'Very Poor', which are 301-400, 'Severe', which are 401-500 or 'Hazardous', which are 500+ levels in three months between October to December, due to various factors including stubble burning, road dust, vehicle pollution and cold weather. Two years ago in an event known as 'The Great smog of Delhi', the air pollution spiked far beyond acceptable levels. Levels of PM 2.5 and PM 10 particulate matter hit 999 micrograms per m3, while the safe limits for those pollutants are 60 and 100 respectively. 2.2 million children in Delhi have irreversible lung damage due to the poor quality of the air. In addition, research shows that pollution in India and all over the world can lower children's immune system and increase the risks of cancer, epilepsy, diabetes and even adult-onset diseases like multiple sclerosis.

Agricultural stubble burning in India
The current majority of analysis sources are hinting towards colder weather, stagnant winds trapping the various sources of smoke. The primary sources of smoke are stubble burning, lit garbage, road dust, power plants, factories and vehicles. India's Ministry of Earth Sciences published a research paper in October 2018 attributing almost 41 percent to vehicular emissions, almost 22 percent to dust and 18 percent to industries. The director of Centre for Science and Environment also known as 'CSE' alleged that the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers also known as 'SIAM' is lobbying against the report because it is inconvenient to the automobile industry.

"Poor air quality is a cause of reduced lung capacity, headaches, sore throats, coughs, fatigue, lung cancer and early death"

What is the definition of smog?
Smog is a type of intense air pollution. The word 'Smog' was coined in the early 20th century and is a contraction also known as 'Portmanteau' of the words smoke and fog to refer to smoky fog and its opacity and odor. The word was then intended to refer to what was sometimes known as pea soup fog, a familiar and serious problem in London from the nineteenth century to the mid-20th century. This kind of visible air pollution is composed of nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, ozone, smoke and other particulates. Man-made smog is derived from coal combustion emissions, vehicular emissions, industrial emissions, forest and agricultural fires and photochemical reactions of these emissions.

Smog is often categorized as being either 'Summer smog' or 'Winter smog' and 'Summer smog' is primarily associated with the photochemical formation of ozone. During the summer season in India when the temperatures are warmer and there is more sunlight present, 'Photochemical smog' is the dominant type of smog formation. During the winter months when the temperatures are colder and atmospheric inversions are common, there is an increase in coal and other fossil fuel usage to heat homes and buildings. These combustion emissions, together with the lack of pollutant dispersion under inversions, characterize winter smog formation. While 'Photochemical smog' is the main smog formation mechanism during summer months, 'Winter smog' episodes are still common. Smog formation in general relies on both 'Primary' and 'Secondary pollutants', where primary pollutants are emitted directly from a source, such as emissions of sulfur dioxide from coal combustion.

'Secondary pollutants', such as ozone, are formed when 'Primary pollutants' undergo chemical reactions in the atmosphere. 'Photochemical smog' is a type of air pollution derived from vehicular emission from internal combustion engines and industrial fumes. These pollutants react in the atmosphere with sunlight to form secondary pollutants that also combine with the primary emissions to form photochemical smog. In certain other cities, such as Delhi, smog severity is often aggravated by stubble burning in neighboring agricultural areas and the atmospheric pollution levels of Delhi and other cities are often increased by an inversion that traps pollution close to the ground and the developing smog is usually toxic to humans and can cause severe sickness, a shortened life span or premature death.

Causes of poor air quality
• Lack of active monitoring and reaction by authorities
• Overpopulation
• Lack of political priority
• Motor vehicle emissions
• A coal-fired power plant
• Wet cooling towers
• Coal for cooking
• Fire in landfill
• Heavy metal rich fire-crackers
• Agricultural stubble burning

As mentioned above motor vehichles are one of the causes of poor air quality. Other causes include wood-burning fires, fires on agricultural land, exhaust from diesel generators, dust from construction sites, burning garbage and illegal industrial activities in Delhi. Although pollution is at its worst from November to February, Delhi's air misses clean-air standards by a wide margin for much of the year. It is a noxious mix of emissions from its 9 million vehicles, construction dust and burning of waste.

On the worst days, the air quality index, a benchmark ranging from zero, which is 'Good' to 500, which is 'Hazardous', exceeds 400. One of the other reaasons is the Badarpur Thermal Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built in 1973, is another major source of air pollution in Delhi. Despite producing less than 8 percent of the city's electric power, it produces 80 to 90 percent of the particulate matter pollution from the electric power sector in Delhi.

"During 'The Great smog of Delhi' in November 2017, the Badarpur Power Plant was temporarily shut down to alleviate the acute air pollution, but was allowed to restart on February 1, 2018. In view of the detrimental effect to the environment, the power plant has been permanently shut down since October 15, 2018. Another thing is also the drift and mist emissions from the wet cooling towers is also a source of particulate matter as they are widely used in industry and other sectors for dissipating heat in cooling systems"

See this video about the smog in India made by The Hindu.

Although Delhi is kerosene free and 90 percent of the households use 'LPG' also known as 'Liquefied petroleum gas' for cooking, the remaining 10 percent uses wood, crop residue, cow dung and coal for cooking. Fire in Bhalswa landfill is a major reason for airborne particles in Delhi. Agricultural stubble burning also affects Delhi's air quality when crops are being harvested

"- As I stepped onto the bustling streets of New Delhi, the air enveloped me – a thick, acrid haze that clung to my skin and seeped into my lungs. The sprawling megacity, home to over 20 million people, wears its dubious crown as one of the world’s most polluted capitals. And it’s not hard to see why. In the heart of this chaotic city, where traffic snarls and smog intertwine, I found resilience and a longing for cleaner air. Delhi remains a paradox—a place of contradictions, where progress and pollution collide", the Photographer says.

Read also:  Yamuna – India's most polluted river

Yamuna – India's most polluted river

Read also:  Yamuna – India's most polluted river

More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of smog and air pollution in Delhi. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.