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The Great Smog: Can Delhi take cue from London to battle the heath crisis | EXPLAINED

Each city has its unique challenges and needs, and solutions may need to be adapted accordingly. However, London's successful efforts to combat air pollution can provide a useful blueprint for Delhi as it grapples with its own air quality and health crisis.

Written By: Surabhi Shaurya @SurabhiShaurya New Delhi Updated on: November 03, 2023 15:38 IST
Smog, Delhi, Air pollution
Image Source : FILE PHOTO File photo of the great London smog

The toxic smog which has blanketed Delhi-NCR for the past couple of weeks reminded me of Netflix's award-winning series 'The Crown', which focuses on the early life of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. The fourth episode of the series, "The Great Smog" revolves around the toxic air which descended on London on 5-9 December 1952. The Great Smog of 1952, often referred to as the Big Smoke or The Great Pea Soup, was indeed a tragic and actual occurrence that resulted in the loss of thousands of civilian lives.

In the web series, government officials can be seen describing how an anticyclone is pushing air down over the city, trapping air pollution from coal burning. However, Prime Minister Winston Churchill ridiculed their concerns and disregarded technical terms like "isobars and isohumes," much like some leaders in our country downplay environmental issues.  To bring the situation under control, the Delhi government has ordered to shut schools and stop construction activities but hazardous smog continues to choke the national capital region. 

Great Smog of London

The Great Smog of London, also called the Great Smog of 1952, was a serious air pollution crisis that struck London, England, in December 1952. Unusually cold weather, combined with a weather pattern called an anticyclone and calm winds, caused pollutants, largely from burning coal, to build up and create a dense layer of smog over the city. This smog lingered from Friday, December 5th, until Tuesday, December 9th, 1952, and dissipated quickly when the weather changed.

The smog had a significant impact, drastically reducing visibility and even creeping into indoor spaces, much worse than previous smog episodes known as "pea-soupers." The Great Smog tragically claimed the lives of around 4,000 people in just a few days, mainly due to respiratory issues and accidents. Later research in 2004 suggested that the actual number of deaths linked to the event could be as high as 12,000.

Measures London Took to Curb The Great Smog

After the Great Smog of London in 1952, the UK government and local authorities took several important measures to prevent air pollution problems. Here are some of the key things they did:

  1. Clean Air Act 1956: The Clean Air Act of 1956 was a crucial law created in response to the Great Smog. It focused on controlling sources of air pollution from homes and industries. This meant setting rules for reducing the amount of smoke coming out of chimneys, encouraging the use of cleaner fuels in cities, and moving certain industrial processes away from crowded areas.
  2. Switching to Cleaner Fuels: Thanks to the Clean Air Act, there was a shift towards using cleaner energy sources like natural gas and electricity, which produced fewer harmful substances compared to coal.
  3. Relocating Polluting Industries: Some major industrial facilities that were causing a lot of air pollution were moved to areas that were less densely populated. This helped reduce the health risks to people.
  4. Improving Public Transportation: London invested in making its public transportation system better. They introduced electric buses and expanded the London Underground, making it easier for people to use cleaner modes of transportation.
  5. Monitoring Air Quality: The city set up systems to keep an eye on the quality of the air. This allowed them to track pollution levels and give early warnings if there was a risk of smog.
  6. Public awareness: Information campaigns were launched to make people aware of the health dangers of air pollution. They encouraged individuals to take steps to reduce their contribution to pollution.
  7. Urban Planning: There were efforts to change how the city was designed. This meant separating areas where industries operated from places where people lived. Better planning overall helped reduce air pollution.

Can Delhi Take Cue From London To Tackle The Health Crisis? 

The measures taken by London played a big role in improving its air quality and decreasing the occurrence of severe smog events. They also served as an example for other cities and countries looking to tackle air pollution and protect public health. Delhi can certainly look to London's experience in combating air pollution. Some key takeaways that Delhi could consider are - legislation and regulation, urban planning, public awareness, and encouraging the use of cleaner fuels.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on Friday said that it was time to revamp both the Air Pollution (Control and Prevention) Act and NAAQS as the National Clean Air Programme was chugging along without having any marked impact.

In a post on X, Ramesh, who is a former Union environment and forest minister said, "The Air Pollution (Control and Prevention) Act came into being in 1981. Thereafter, ambient air quality standards were announced in April 1994 and later revised in October 1998. In November 2009, after a thorough review by IIT Kanpur and other institutions, a more stringent and wide-ranging National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) was put into effect. This covered 12 pollutants considered very detrimental to public health."


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