The Milad telecommunications tower behind smog in Tehran, November 16, 2016.

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Choking smog leads to dire warnings

Air quality at dangerous levels

CNN  — 

First it was Beijing. Then Delhi. Now it’s Tehran.

Hundreds of deaths are being blamed on the thick, hazy smog that has choked Iran’s capital this month, as Iranian officials scramble for solutions to the city’s ever-growing pollution crisis.

It’s so severe that Iran’s Supreme Leader has even weighed in, calling on Iranians to stop driving their personal vehicles during days when pollution levels are high.

Smog isn’t unusual in Tehran, particularly at this time of the year. The city is surrounded by mountains and suffers from chronic traffic jams, with low rainfall and a lack of strong wind streams. As a result, the city’s landscape acts as a sort of funnel, with heavy emissions from millions of vehicles unable to escape the city.

The result is a choking, thick haze that blankets the city, often obscuring the city’s prominent landmarks. Although Tehran’s air pollution is common, this week, Iranian officials have issued a series of dire warnings, suggesting the crisis is far worse than any the city has previously faced.

An Iranian woman wears mask as she walk in a street in Tehran on November 16, 2016.

In a story carried by Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency, a local city council member Habib Kashani said that poor air quality was a factor in four hundred deaths occurred in the city in roughly the last three weeks.

Air quality at danger level

In an emergency response, Tehran’s schools were closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, keeping children at home in an attempt to lower the number of vehicles on the streets. Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported that air quality has been at dangerous levels in four of the last six days for anyone with pre-existing breathing conditions.

An Iranian motorcyclist even posted a photo on Instagram wearing his biker’s helmet and a gas mask, with the caption “My city is better than yours, my air better than yours.” He added an emoji of gas masks.

On Wednesday, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani addressed the pollution concerns directly in a speech in the country’s mountainous Alborz province. In comments carried by Iran’s Mehr News Agency, he said his government had “issued relevant orders for necessary decisions to be taken immediately” and that more than eight hundred thousand older vehicles had been taken off Iran’s traffic-clogged streets in the past three years.

A view of smog-enveloped Tehran on November 14, 2016.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s own website even has a section on Islamic rulings that have to do with heavy pollution.

They come in the form of answers to questions about the best way ordinary Iranians should deal with pollution in the country’s capital. In one response, he discouraged his religious followers from driving a high-emissions vehicle that could worsen air pollution.

A second question asked: “What is the verdict for using personal transportation rather than public transportation during times when the city’s air is pollution?” The response said that in an emergency situation, when adding more cars to the roads would worsen the pollution, driving a personal vehicle would be tantamount to committing “a forbidden act.”

“Therefore, if officials ask people to not use their personal vehicles,” it said, “that (request) should be heeded.