The chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, compared his own district to a "gas chamber" on Nov. 7 after air pollution reached severe levels.
Residents of India's capital city woke up to a hazy sky and an air quality index of 451, reports Reuters. The air quality index -- which measures concentrations of particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and other contaminants -- has a maximum rating of 500. Anything over 100 is considered dangerous by the Central Pollution Control Board.
A concentration of PM 2.5, the smallest and most harmful air particles, reached 700 micrograms per cubic meter in certain areas of the city, according to The New York Times. The effect that level of pollution has on the lungs is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes per day. Junior schools had to be shut down and residents were discouraged from going outdoors.
"I would also request people to avoid morning walks," said Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia according to NDTV. "The situation is close to a severe crisis."
The Delhi government issued additional warnings for children, the elderly and other high-risk groups. Classes for younger children were also shut down in the neighboring region of Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh. In Haryana, schools will open at the later time of 9 a.m. until the end of November to avoid the early morning smog.
Heavy air pollution during the last part of the year is not unusual for Delhi, a region of 45 million residents. Although there are multiple contributing factors, illegal crop burning is considered a major culprit.
"Every year this happens during this part of year," Kejriwal wrote on Twitter after comparing the air to a gas chamber. "We have to find a soln to crop burning in adjoining states."
In August, Delhi's Environment Minister Imran Hussein wrote a letter to ministers in four neighboring regions encouraging them to take action on the issue, The New York Times reports.
"Crop burning is a major reason for pollution," wrote government official Arunoday Prakash on Nov. 7. "Delhi Minister wrote to Punjab, Haryana, UP and Rajasthan long back. But no action was taken."
Dr. Arvind Kumar, chairman for chest surgery at Sir Ganga Ram hospital, believes action needs to be taken immediately.
"We are in a state of medical emergency," Kumar told Reuters. "Schools should be shut, we need to bring these levels down. We are all shortening our lives."
Although high-risk populations are the most vulnerable to air pollution, it can also cause serious problems in otherwise healthy people. The Indian Medical Association urged an upcoming race on Nov. 19 to be canceled to protect runners' lungs.
"The options for Delhi residents are three," said Kumar, speaking to The New York Times. "One is to stop breathing. That's not possible. The second is to quit Delhi. That is also not possible. Third is to make the right to breathe fresh air a people's movement."
Sources: Reuters, The New York Times, NDTV, Arvind Kejriwal/Twitter, arunoday/Twitter / Featured Image: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier/Flickr / Embedded Images: Dominique Faget/AFP via The New York Times, Saumya Khandelwal/Reuters