India’s capital has consistently ranked among the world’s most polluted cities.
New Delhi is a teeming metropolis of 32 million people, which has many things to recommend it, not least its colorful urban scenery and vibrant culture. Yet it is also one of the world’s most polluted cities.
Blighting the lives of locals has been chronic air and water pollution, which has reached alarming levels yet again. Frequently residents of India’s heaving metropolis find themselves wading through a thick fog of toxic smog, which forces some schools and businesses to be shut for days.
Airborne PM2.5 pollutants, which can severely damage people’s health with children and the elderly especially at risk, often exceed the World Health Organization guidelines by orders of magnitude.
The city is going through its “pollution season” once again with hazardous particles creating a toxic miasma across the entire metropolitan area. In recent days New Delhi has ranked as the world’s most polluted city with its air quality index reaching 517, a level 10 times the rate deemed safe by the WHO.
“Cars, factories, construction and power plants are all to blame but so too is the seasonal wheat stubble burning in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana, when farmers set fire to their fields to quickly make way for new crops, despite the practice being outlawed,” The Guardian explains.
Prolonged exposure to toxic air can cause and worsen a whole host of health conditions from pulmonary and cardiovascular ailments to mental ones such as Alzheimer’s disease. It can even harm unborn children and just spending a few hours in it can impair brain function.
According to a recent study many residents of New Delhi may be robbed by well over a decade of life through their exposure to chronic pollution. Despite that, there appears to be little urgency on the part of decisionmakers to address the problem.
“Governments have been promising that they will make Delhi a better place but nothing has happened,” the newspaper quotes a man who sells tea at a roadside stall and often spends 14 hours outdoors a day. “My eyes feel a burning sensation and my head feels like it is spinning. I am worried about my future.”
Millions of low-income earners like him can ill afford to stay indoors during spells of especially bad pollution and so they must brave the consequences of being exposed to it.
“When air quality is poor, it is infecting the vulnerable population – the younger children, the elderly, and those with co-morbidities, chronic respiratory disease or chronic cardiac problem. In children, it can also lead to a decrease in lung growth. As the child grows in this environment, the growth of the lung gets hampered,” Dr Randeep Guleria, a local pulmonologist, told Al Jazeera.
To make matters worse, water pollution is also taking its toll.
“A thick layer of toxic foam has once again coated parts of a sacred river near New Delhi as the Indian capital battles an acrid and noxious smog that has settled across the city,” CNN reports.
“The white froth, a mixture of sewage and industrial waste, has formed over sections of the Yamuna River – a tributary of the holy Ganges River – which flows about 855 miles (1,376 kilometers) south from the Himalayas through several states,” the news organization explains.
As rampant overcrowding, traffic congestion and unsustainable industrial practices are set to carry on unabated in India’s capital, local residents appear doomed to be saddled with extreme pollution for years to come.