Pollution “is killing us”: India’s capital can’t breathe

For 30 years, he has been riding a motorcycle taxi through the streets of New Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world. Bhanjan Lal, with a bad cough, suffers from a chronic lung disease attributed to the toxic air in the Indian capital.

“I don’t know where the solution to this pollution that kills us will come from,” Vijay Satokar told AFP. For this inhabitant of the capital, Delhi looks like a “gas chamber”.

The Indian capital tends to top the world ranking of capitals with the worst air quality.

The levels of fine PM2.5 particles – whose diameter is less than 2.5 micrometers, and which are especially harmful to health – reached more than 30 times the maximum daily limit established by the World Health Organization last week (WHO).

– “Total lack of oxygen” –

“The pollution causes me a lot of problems, (especially) in my throat,” Bhanjan Lal, sitting in his motorcycle taxi, told AFP.

“My eyes burn (…) My lungs are damaged, I have trouble breathing,” says this 58-year-old man, still coughing.

Lal circulates between Delhi’s heavy traffic every day, also in winter, when pollution is at its highest and the megalopolis of 20 million people is engulfed in a thick toxic fog.

Emissions from factories, car fumes, and smoke from agricultural fires in nearby states form a yellowish haze.

The AFP accompanied Lal to his visit to the doctor, who treats him for a chronic obstructive pulmonary ailment, a progressive disease that blocks the circulation of oxygen.

According to Dr. Vivek Nangia, the first symptoms are “cough, cold, shortness of breath, chest tightness.” But it evolves until the person “has a total lack of oxygen” and may even need a respirator.

If Lal “does not continue with his treatment, his airways will be compressed and his condition will progressively deteriorate.”

Some measures by the authorities to curb pollution, such as the campaign that suggests that drivers turn off their engines at traffic lights, have no effect.

Lal has also seen how his activity suffers the consequences: sometimes he roams the city for hours without finding clients, because many prefer to take a taxi and not expose themselves so much to the polluted air.

– Anti-pollution lockdown? –

This week, the local government took a drastic measure by ordering the temporary closure of six of the eleven coal plants around Delhi.

It also closed schools until further notice, asked officials to work from home and banned trucks, except those carrying essential items, from circulating in the capital until next week.

The authorities however rejected the advice of the Supreme Court to order a “confinement for contamination”.

Pollution is responsible for more than a million deaths a year in this country and, according to a recent study by the University of Chicago, air pollution could reduce the life expectancy of four Indians out of ten by more than nine years.

But the public authorities avoid facing the underlying problems, in a context in which the national consumption of coal has almost doubled in the last decade.

At the latest COP26 climate conference, in the Scottish city of Glasgow, India opposed the most ambitious restrictions on fossil fuels and the use of coal, which boosts its economy.

bur-gle / oho / lth / tbm / es / jvb


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