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Escaping the gas chamber: Helpless residents now start Quit Delhi campaign

As the pollution in the city has hit 70 times the World Health Organisation's safe limit, doctors have advised people to wear N90 masks whenever they go out

Smog in Delhi
A man wearing an anti-pollution mask jogs through the smog at Lodhi Garden in New Delhi. (Photo: PTI)

"For weeks the breathing of my 8-year-old son, Bram, had become more laboured, his medicinal inhaler increasingly vital. And then, one terrifying night nine months after we moved to this megacity, Bram's inhaler stopped working and his gasping became panicked," New York Times correspondent Gardiner Harris wrote in May 2015 in a piece about how he was leaving Delhi because of its air pollution. 

Two years later, others, both expatriates and Indian citizens, are staring at the same situation: Should we continue staying in a city that is killing us with every breath we take or quit while we're ahead? 

As the pollution in the city has hit 70 times the World Health Organisation's safe limit, doctors have advised people to wear N90 masks whenever they go out, as exposure to air pollution can lead to cancer and heart disease.

ALSO READ: Airpocalypse: Band-aid solutions won't fix Delhi's grave air problem

The residents of the city are battling the health menace as best as they can. Speaking to news agency ANI on Sunday, a jogger at India Gate said, "We are facing breathing problems now. We are taking precautions to protect ourselves from respiratory problems." Another citizen of the city said, "It is tough to breathe and the situation needs to be fixed." (Read more here

Time to quit the city?

However, for some Delhiites, the only 'precaution' left is to pack their bags and leave the city. 

TV anchor and foodie Mayur Sharma, of Highway on My Plate fame, who had spent his life in Delhi, left the city last November. A Times of India report reveals why: With Delhi overtaken by air pollution and blanketed by smog, Sharma and his wife pulled their two children out of school and went to Goa for three months. However, after returning to Delhi, they came to the decision that it was time to leave the city for good.

"It was a hard but obvious decision because it comes down to this: if a few years later, my child is sick or dying, all this won't matter," Sharma told the national daily. 


Another resident of the city, designer Swati Jain has also decided to relocate, according to the report. Her reason for getting out of the city for good? According to the report, doctors have advised her 68-year-old mother who suffers from interstitial lung disease to leave the capital. "This air is poison for her," Swati told the national daily. So, after having lived in Delhi for 15 years, her parents will leave for Kolkata and Swati, for her part, plans to move out of the city soon.

It isn't just people with health conditions who need to look out. After a brief let-up, the pollution levels skyrocketed in Delhi on Sunday with the air quality becoming hazardous, which environmental agencies consider unfit for inhalation even by healthy people. (Read more here)

According to Safar (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research), Delhi's air quality stood at "severe" on Monday, with PM10 readings at 645 microgrammes per cubic metre and PM2.5 at 416 microgrammes per cubic metre. Tuesday's forecast for the city also remains severe, although with a dip in PM10 and PM2.5 particle readings. Three days from now, Safar forecasts the air quality in the capital to be "very poor". 

Social media posts by some residents also show that at least a number of people see no solution to the city's woes in the near future and have decided to leave. Others, while not ready with packed bags, appear to be considering leaving an option.
 









 

Among a number of petitions on change.org regarding the city's plight, one petition, titled 'Clean Air In Delhi City', has garnered 17,799 signatures. (Read the letter here and sign up for the petition)

Calling on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene, the letter says: "The air in Delhi is poison. The pollution is choking to death millions of citizens who live in the capital of India. In spite of being such a health hazard, the government has done scant little." 

Further, the letter asks PM Modi whether he can "do something before so many of us die in this muck that we breathe".

It's not just the people living in the city who have noticed. As reported earlier, the smog in Delhi, which has thrown airline schedules out of gear, forced United Airlines to cancel two flights from Newark, US, to the national capital on Friday and Saturday. Earlier, the airline was offering waivers on rescheduling tickets. But poor air quality, declared as a health emergency, prompted it to call off its services. (Read more here)

Subsequently, the airlines said it had resumed flights from Newark (New Jersey) to New Delhi on Sunday, after suspending the service temporarily over concerns about poor air quality in the capital city. 

What this city's air will do to you

While individual stories of people 'quiting' the city might not paint the full picture of how dangerous Delhi's air is, doctors have already described the hazards in detail. 

According to agency reports, the risk to our lives is very much real. AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria feared that the situation, if it continues, could cause 30,000 deaths in the NCR due to respiratory-related issues in the winter season. "The current smog situation in the national capital is the same to last year's post Diwali situation," Guleira said, citing the Great Smog of London in 1952 which is estimated to have killed nearly 4,000 people within a week.

Calling the current dense smog a "silent killer", Gulleria said while there was a surge in sale of anti-pollution masks and air purifiers, they were not very useful. "It's better to stay indoors and not go out. There is an absolute need to avoid the hotspots of air pollution. However, we need a long term solution, all these are short term," Guleria told IANS.


He said there was a 20 per cent surge in respiratory disease patients at the AIIMS. The most affected were children and the aged.

Other doctors asked people to avoid jogging as high levels of air pollution can cause chronic lung and heart diseases.



The smog can cause allergies or aggravate already existing allergies and decrease lung immunity, according to Fortis Healthcare. The high levels of air pollution might also lead to premature birth, it warned.

Perhaps it's time the residents of the city weighed in on whether living here is worth the danger to their health. What do you think, breath easy or live in Delhi?