Angela Merkel pledges $1.12 billion to fight India’s toxic air

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday urged greater efforts to clean up New Delhi’s toxic air as she pledged US$1.12 billion to help Indian cities switch to green transport.

Merkel talked about the poor quality of air after the pollution reached “emergency” levels.

Schools were ordered closed until Tuesday and all construction halted, while Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal started distributing millions of anti-pollution masks to children.

Merkel received the ceremonial parade in the city with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday as the smog intensified. Neither leaders wore masks despite authorities telling residents to stay indoors to avoid the haze.

Merkel said Germany would spend one billion euros on “green” urban transport projects in India over the next five years, including 200 million euros to replace diesel buses in Tamil Nadu state.

“These diesel buses are to be replaced by electric buses and anyone who saw the pollution in Delhi yesterday would find very good arguments for replacing even more of these buses,” Merkel said in a speech.

Much of the pollution is blamed on fires lit by farmers to burn off wheat crop residues in the neighbouring states.

Delhi has faced a mounting pollution crisis over the past decade.

Fourteen Indian cities including the capital are among the world’s top 15 most polluted, according to the United Nations.

According to one study, smog kills a million Indians prematurely every year.