World’s Most Polluted City to Go Car-Free One Day a Month

Up to 90 percent of air pollution is linked to vehicle emissions.

New Delhi smog. (Photo: Flickr)

Oct 9, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

A four-mile stretch of congested, smog-filled roadways in New Delhi will soon look vastly different as the government prepares to ban cars from the city streets—but only for a few hours.

India will hold its first car-free morning on high-traffic routes in New Delhi on Oct. 22, Gopal Rai, India’s transport minister, told Reuters on Tuesday.

“Delhi’s pollution levels are rising beyond dangerous levels,” Rai told Reuters. “If we don’t address this, people will be forced to think about leaving the city to save their lives.”

The government hustled to come up with a set of plans to combat the Indian capital’s air-pollution crisis after an order was issued by the Supreme Court on Monday. New Delhi’s air was ranked most polluted—much of it linked to vehicle emissions—out of 1,600 cities worldwide in a 2014 report from the World Health Organization.

New Delhi’s air has hazardous levels of particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller in diameter. These particles are especially dangerous as they can be easily inhaled, leading to a wide array of health problems, from asthma to heart attacks.

More than 600,000 people die from air pollution annually in India, according to a 2013 estimate from WHO. In July, Indian officials announced that 80 people die in New Delhi from pollution-related deaths every day.

The number of cars on the road in New Delhi increased by 97 percent from 2002 to 2012, according to India’s Environment Pollution Control Authority. The U.N. Environment Program attributes more than 90 percent of all outdoor air pollution in rapidly developing cities to an influx of cars that don’t meet emissions standards. An Indian court ordered all cars 15 years or older off the road earlier this year, but officials haven’t enforced the ruling.

Rai also urged residents to adopt a one-car-per-household policy, take public transportation, and carpool.

But personal vehicles are only part of the problem. A report released this week from New Delhi’s Center for Science and Environment estimates that 30 percent of the city’s air pollution comes from commercial vehicles. Instead of driving around the city, trucks hauling goods across India drive right through the heart of the metropolis. To curb this, within two months’ time the government will begin charging diesel-fueled commercial vehicles entering the city a tax of up to $20, with plans to possibly build a road around the city’s perimeter to reduce the number of cars in the city.