Air pollutant touched calamitous levels in Delhi yesterday, as a thick grey smog hung low across the region, prompting the government to declare schools closed till Sunday, halt construction activity and ban the entry of trucks in the city.
"Environmental situations such as the current Delhi smog cannot be tackled just by addressing the issue of the number of cars or banning firecrackers. There has to be an all- encompassing approach," UN Resident Coordinator Yuri Afanasiev said on the sidelines of an event in Delhi.
Mr Afanasiev, who is also the UNDP Resident Representative in India, earlier inaugurated a two-day exhibition -- Transforming India -- put up by school students and themed on UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Swachh Bharat at the UN Office lawns in Delhi.
"There is the issue of farmers (stubble burning) and plant emissions. And, even if one talks about reducing the volume of cars in the streets, there has to be a discussion on the quality of cars, whether they have catalytic converters. It has to be a well-rounded approach," he said.
Catalytic converters work by chemically converting emissions to less harmful substances.
Asked how authorities in India have handled the "pollution emergency" in Delhi, he said it would be "premature to make a judgement" at this moment.
Mr Afanasiev, in his opening address at the event, also urged school children and other young people to play a greater role as "ambassadors of change" by encouraging and exhorting their parents to talk about pollution and climate change.
"Tell your parents there is a need to talk about pollution levels, as you have presented in your exhibits here. The message I want to leave here is that SDGs are not a religion implanted by the world into India. They touch everything that we do in our life," he said.
The senior UN official said it had been found that behavioural changes were more effective in adults if brought about through children.
"And so many of the students can bring about change. Some of their parents could be politicians, ministers, chief secretaries or CEOs," he said, adding that behavioural change can be triggered by students discussing such issues with their parents.
The exhibition was put by students of ASN Senior Secondary School, Mayur Vihar.
Ayushman Sahu, 13, a student of Class 8, among those who exhibited their projects, said, "We are only responsible for this smog and so we are suffering. Why can't we have odd-even throughout the year," he said, referring to a scheme where odd and even numbered vehicles ply on alternate days.
"It will ease the burden on the environment," he said.
In his address, Mr Afanasiev made a passing reference to the Delhi smog that has been likened by some experts to the infamous 1952 great smog of London.
"We are here on the lawns of the UN Office. I am sorry, you folks had to be here on a day like this," he said.
Sushma Kalia, media coordinator for the school, said, "It is a holiday today, as declared by the government in view of the pollution. But our students have worked so hard, so their parents said they should exhibit their projects."
She added primary students had not come for the exhibition but their works were on display.
Some of the students and teachers were seen wearing masks at the venue.