Photo: AP

This could be the year more people in India start wearing oxygen cylinders on their backs. Seriously.

Air quality in the capital territory of Delhi nearly reached “severe” levels on the country’s Central Pollution Control Board Index Monday. That’s the worst classification, which only happens when the air quality index passes 400 on a scale of 500 measuring a range of pollutants, including particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone. At this point on the scale, they’re way past what is safe for humans.

The region regularly sees these sorts of seasonal air pollution fluctuations—mostly due to particulate matter, which is made up of tiny particles that can cause damage to the heart and lungs when inhaled. It also contributes to smog.

The region is already seeing impacts from this pollution: Deaths related to breathing disorders (heart disease, lung disease, and cancer) increased by 40 percent between 2015 and 2016. That’s quite the worrisome jump.

Thick fog envelopes a bicyclist outside New Delhi, India, on January 1, 2018. Photo: AP

Advertisement

This pollution usually originates from farmers burning their crops and the cold air and slow winds that allow it to stick around, as well as local burning of solid waste. The firecrackers people shot off on New Year’s Eve only worsened conditions, according to the Press Trust of India.

This reality is becoming more of the norm. In November, Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal called Delhi a “gas chamber” due to the extreme pollution, and the region saw a number of traffic accidents (with one turning out fatal) just a day later. Experts now speculate people who live in the Delhi region could legit need oxygen cylinders to safely breathe the air. In fact, residents could need five cylinders a day, according to India.com.

All of this is preventable, something local governments recognize. They created the Comprehensive Action Plan for Air Pollution, focusing on 14 key pollution sources, including vehicles and power plants. It lays out goals of different lengths to properly combat air pollution, such as shutting down the region’s only operational coal-fired power plant in Badarpur, Delhi, by mid-2018.

Advertisement

A separate plan—the Graded Response Action Plan—looks at emergency levels of air pollution, which is what the region is now seeing almost regularly. This plan involves temporarily shutting down schools and proposing higher parking fees.

Oxygen cylinders aren’t a part of any plan, but governments might consider allocating funding for those soon if things don’t get any better.