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Toxic Smog Forces Emergency Measures in New Delhi

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  • A poisonous smog in New Delhi, India has caused the government to declare a public health emergency, shutting down schools and halting construction projects.
  • As the city’s 20 million people battle respiratory problems, headaches, and burning eyes, the government has implemented vehicle restrictions that require people to alternate between days they can drive based on their license plate number.
  • The pollution, which has become a reoccurring problem for New Delhi this time of year, is caused by a combination of farmers burning crops mixed with vehicle emissions and pollution from firework displays celebrating the Hindu holiday Diwali.
  • As a result, many have criticized the government for not doing enough to deal with the pollution and argued that their proposals are only short-term fixes to a long-term problem.

Toxic Smog

Record levels of toxic smog have engulfed the Indian capital of New Delhi as government officials scramble to control the situation.

The poisonous smog, which the Delhi Chief Minister described as “unbearable pollution,” has taken over the city of more than 20 million people since late last week. 

It is not currently clear how high the pollution levels are.

Over the weekend, it was reported that the levels were literally off the charts, with some people reporting that most areas in the city showed an air quality index of 999 because the meters can not record above that.

That number is three times higher than the “hazardous” level on the global air quality index.

According to other sources, the levels of dangerous particulates were more than 20 times higher than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended safe daily maximum, which is the equivalent of smoking more than two packs of cigarettes a day.

Government Response

The Indian government responded on Friday by declaring a public health emergency, shutting down all primary schools, and halting construction projects for several days. 

The government also said it would distribute masks to five million children in the city.

People have been encouraged to stay inside as much as they can as reports of respiratory problems, headaches, and burning eyes continue.

On Sunday, flights were delayed and diverted due to the fact that pilots could not see through the smog. The smog has also caused traffic and car accidents.

Officials in New Delhi on Monday started restricting the use of private vehicles to try to help lift the pollution. 

Under those restrictions, people can only use their cars on alternating days: Cars with odd-number license plates can drive on odd dates and cars with even-numbered plates can drive on even-numbered dates. Anyone found violating the restrictions will face a fine.

According to reports, the restrictions will not apply on Sunday. Additionally, the seven million motorbikes and scooters registered in the city are exempt from the restrictions, as are those taking public transportation and cars carrying only women.

Yearly Occurrence

While the dangerous smog in New Delhi is certainly significant, it is not something new.

In fact, this kind of air pollution is something that has been happening in New Delhi annually in recent years around this time. It is caused by a combination of a few things that all come together in especially bad timing.

One of the main causes of pollution is crop fires. Every winter, farmers in the surrounding areas of New Delhi in northern India burn old crops to make room to grow new crops.

The smoke and fumes from that process then drift to the suburbs and city, where they mix with construction dust and car emissions.

To make matters worse, that already toxic combination then mixes with smoke from fireworks displays during the Hindu holiday Diwali, which also happens at this time of the year.

However, because so much of the pollution comes from the crop burning, many have criticized the vehicle alternation restrictions, arguing that it will ultimately not do much.

Leaders in New Delhi⁠— which in the past has been labeled the most polluted city in the world⁠— have said any efforts they have made to clear up pollution have been undone by farmers burning crops in nearby states, and largely blamed the farmers.

But others have noted that New Delhi frequently does not meet air quality guidelines even when it is not crop-burning and firework season, arguing that the capital has a major issue with traffic pollution.

According to scientists at India’s state-run weather monitor SAFAR, crop burning in nearby states only contributes to just over 40% of Delhi’s pollution.

Taking that data into account, it appears that not just the farmers are responsible, prompting accusations that the politicians are just trying to scapegoat them.

In fact, back in September, even before the recent pollution crisis, government officials had already announced that they would implement the alternating odd-even car rule in early November.

Those restrictions have also been applied before, most recently in 2016. 

Broader Problem

While the pollution crisis in Delhi right now is extreme, it is part of a much bigger problem for India as a whole.

In May 2018, a study by the World Health Organization found that out of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world, nine of them were in India.

As a result, many have called on the government to take more accountability and actually do something, arguing that short-term band-aid solutions are not going to change anything.

On Saturday, people in New Delhi protested the lack of government action outside Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence.

On Monday, India’s Supreme Court criticized both national and state governments for not doing anything to curb the pollution.

“This can’t go on,” the high court said in a report. “People aren’t safe even inside their houses and rooms.”

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera)

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Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

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Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.


Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)

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Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls

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Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.


Hundreds Make It Out Alive

A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.

People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.

The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.

Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.

“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”

63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.

“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.

Putin’s Plans Go Poorly

In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.

On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.

The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”

Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.

After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.

“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.

On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.

Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.

The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”

“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.

Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)

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Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished

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The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.


Settlers Get Ready to Move in

On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.

“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.

The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.

The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.

In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”

“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.

In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.

Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land

On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.

Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.

The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s

“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Peace Now) (Associated Press)

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