Air pollution is an enemy to public health in India’s capital, New Delhi, and now the government is approaching the threat like a traditional combatant.

Earlier this week, a high-pressure water cannon, or “anti-smog gun,” was rolled into northern Delhi, the most polluted part of the city, and pointed towards the sky, according to CNN.  

Then the cannon was turned on and a wide jet of water shot into the air, aimed at an amorphous cloud of contaminants accumulated from industrial activities like mining and demolition work, and everyday actions like driving and burning waste, CNN reports.

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The idea is that the water from cannon creates a fog that absorbs these hazardous air particles before they can be inhaled by humans, CNN reports.  

In the first trial run, the air was cleaned by 95%, according to BBC.

The cannons were first unveiled in China in 2014 to combat air pollution, but the government deemed them too expensive, BBC notes.

Each water cannon costs about $31,000 and is made by a company called Cloud Tech.

“This is a solution for when you are helpless,” Vimal Saini, director of Cloud Tech, told BBC.  “The smog is there and you are waiting for the rain, so you can have immediate relief out of [the cannon].”

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Critics of the plan argue that the cannons fail to get at the root of the problem, the sources of air pollution in the first place.

“The Delhi government should look at more sustainable solutions rather than creating business for a few companies,” Sunil Dahiya, senior campaigner at Greenpeace, told the Guardian.

The government is sensitive to these criticisms and claims it’s only rolling out these cannons as a last resort measure because the air pollution is just too bad, according to Delhi’s Environment Minister Imran Hussain who spoke with CNN.

In early November, schools closed, construction ceased, and people were discouraged from driving, because air pollution levels had exceeded the World Bank’s safety limit by 30 times.

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At the time, the chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal called the city a “gas chamber.”

New Delhi’s air quality is consistently well above the level deemed safe by the US’s Environmental Protection Agency, but the air becomes more contaminated in winter months because cold air suspends hazardous air particles.

In October, the city took concrete steps to addressing this chronic problem by instituting a Graded Response Action Plan that kicks in when air pollution gets extremely bad. In recent years, the government has also curbed the use of cars and the illegal burning of plastic.

But until industries like mining and construction are confronted head-on, then water cannons may be the only recourse for the people of Delhi, who smoke the equivalent of 50 cigarettes a day just by living their lives.

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for universal access to clean water, air, and food. You can take action on these issues here


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