Tuesday January 28, 2020

Toxic Air of Delhi Prompting People To Quit City

Delhi's Toxic Air Prompts Many to Quit City

Delhi is blanketed in a grey haze of pollution on Christmas Eve as morning commuters pass by, Dec. 24, 2018.

They are being called pollution migrants — a growing band of residents in the Indian capital who are relocating to other places as its toxic air sparks grim warnings that it is extracting a heavy toll on the city’s health. But environmental experts question whether they have many choices, pointing out that much of urban India is grappling with an air pollution crisis.

Last year, when Purva Bhatia’s three month-old-daughter became sick with pneumonia, the doctor attributed it to New Delhi’s deadly air pollution. The thought of leaving the city where she and her husband grew up had never crossed their minds. But having watched many other children battle respiratory ailments, it did not take long for them to decide that they could not raise her in Delhi.

“We needed to give her clean air at least. Just to see that three month old with nebulizer and medicines, that was really traumatizing,” recalls Bhatia, who writes a blog. She migrated to Canada last month.

Toxic air

In recent years, air pollution in the Indian capital a mix of automobile emissions, construction dust and industrial emissions — often reaches severe levels in winter months. Although summer is better, the air quality is still poor and New Delhi, which now ranks as the world’s most polluted mega city.

Doctors warn that the toxic air, which is considered to be equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day when it is at its worst, can lead to serious respiratory and heart ailments.

Those scary warnings are prompting some to pack their bags. Some have gone to southern cities like Bengaluru and Chennai, while others have headed to the western city of Goa, a palm-fringed, beach destination.

Although the air in cities like Mumbai is not as dirty as in Delhi, the problem is worsening and environmentalists warn that much of urban India faces an air pollution crisis.

Aditi Malhotra, an event planner, left for Goa a year and a half ago after she suffered from breathing problems and eye infections due to the toxic air in her hometown, Delhi. “It was getting very difficult to handle all of that. It was a very conscious and planned decision to move to a cleaner place,” she said.

‘National emergency’

However, Anumita Roy Chowdhury at New Delhi’s Center of Science and Environment, warns that “we cannot really run away.” Calling air pollution a “national emergency” she points out that while the Indian capital may have grabbed the headlines, the air in most other cities is also toxic.

“We know that almost 88 percent of the cities that are monitored in this country are what is officially classified as critically polluted,” she says. “It is as expansive as that.”

‘Public health emergency’ and relocation

India dominates the list of the world’s most polluted cities — according to the World Health Organization, 14 out of the 20 top ones are in India.

Shruti Chaturvedi, a 25-year-old who has launched a startup, Chaaipani, testifies to that problem. She moved to Delhi in 2016 but after her bronchitis worsened, she quit the city. The reason: “I had breathing troubles, I could not even sleep at night, I had to buy air purifiers, and that is the worst, to even ask for good air,” she said.

Chaturvedi moved to Mumbai, but although the air was cleaner than in Delhi, she still found it difficult to handle the pollution levels. She is now heading to Goa and this time she is taking no chances. “Even when I am looking for houses in Goa, I go around taking the air pollution meter to see where air pollution is the least,” she said.

Many are searching for options. Several young professionals told VOA they are willing to take pay cuts and relocate to cleaner places with most wanting to move for the sake of their children.

People pass by an installation of an artificial model of lungs to illustrate the effect of air pollution outside a hospital in New Delhi, India, Nov. 5, 2018.

“You can take a risk with your own health, but you can’t do it with your kids,” said a young lawyer with a two-year-old son who did not want to be named.

Doctors say that the numbers of wheezing men, women and children who stream in for help rises every winter and call the city’s toxic air the prime contributor.

“Most hospitals are now reporting much higher percentage of patients having respiratory diseases as compared to ten years back,” according to Doctor Arvind Kumar, a prominent lung surgeon in the city. “And now it is being realized that the worst affect is coming in children in the form of suboptimal brain and lung development. For me it is a public health emergency, it is much bigger than any development agenda.”

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However, in a city of over 20 million, the option of moving out is still restricted to the upper middle classes and the elite. Many of the worst affected, such as those working outdoors in pavement stalls and auto rickshaw drivers, say they have no choice but to stay in the city.

“I get headaches, burning in my eyes, when I drive, especially in winter,” says 47-year-old Ashok Lohia, an auto rickshaw driver. But he shrugs aside his health issues, “I have to earn a living. I am not educated, where can I go?”

Those who have quit Delhi admit uprooting themselves was not easy, but say they have no plans to turn back until the city’s air pollution crisis eases. (VOA)

Next Story

Air Pollution Associated with More Severe Rhinitis Symptoms: Researchers

Airborne particulate matter and NO2 are both traffic-related pollutants

Pollution- climate crisis
Climate crisis has increased due to air pollution and people are facing lung and heart-related problems. VOA

Researchers have found that the nasal symptoms of rhinitis are more severe in people exposed to higher levels of outdoor air pollution.

Rhinitis, a condition that affects between 20 per cent and 50 per cent of the world’s population, is a disorder of the nasal mucosa characterised by congestion, sneezing, rhinorrhoea, nasal irritation and, in some cases, a reduced sense of smell.

“Rhinitis is associated with asthma, which is closely linked to air pollution. That is why we thought it would be interesting to investigate whether long-term exposure to air pollution also plays a determining role in rhinitis,” said study researcher Benedicte Jacquemi from Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) in Spain.

For the findings, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers analysed data from 1,408 patients with rhinitis from 17 different European cities, including Barcelona and Oviedo (Spain), Paris (France), Antwerp (Belgium), Umea (Sweden) and Erfurt (Germany).

The participants answered a questionnaire regarding the severity of each one of their rhinitis symptoms and the extent to which the condition interferes with their day-to-day lives.

According to the researchers, airborne particles, the diameter of which can vary from micrometres to millimetres, are solid or liquid bodies present in the air. Particles with a diameter under 2.5 (PM2.5) and under ten micrometres (PM10) are of particular interest in this context.

Delhi Toxic Air
An elderly Indian woman seeks alms as youth wearing pollution masks walk through a shopping area in New Delhi, India. VOA

As the study shows, people living in cities with higher levels of PM10 and PM2.5 report the most severe rhinitis symptoms. An increase of 5 �g/m3 in PM2.5 was associated with a 17 per cent higher probability of severe rhinitis.

These particles were associated with increased severity of congestion, nasal irritation and sneezing, whereas exposure to NO2 increased the severity of nasal discharge and congestion, the study said.

Airborne particulate matter and NO2 are both traffic-related pollutants.

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“The role of these pollutants in the severity of symptoms is probably linked to oxidative stress, apoptosis (a process by which irreparably damaged cells are eliminated) and inflammation,” said study lead author Emilie Burte.

“Our findings suggest that the effect of airborne particulate matter differs from that of gaseous emissions (NO2), probably because their respective mechanisms of action provoke different inflammatory responses in the respiratory tract; however, more studies are needed to validate this hypothesis,” Burt added. (IANS)