Chil­dren suf­fer­ing under Delhi smog

Chil­dren in New Delhi most at risk with air pol­lu­tion 90 times global stan­dards

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As In­di­ans woke up yes­ter­day to smoke­filled skies from a week­end of fes­ti­val fire­works, New Delhi’s worst sea­son for air pol­lu­tion be­gins – with dire con­se­quences.

A new re­port from UNICEF says about a third of the 2 billion chil­dren in the world who are breath­ing toxic air live in north­ern In­dia and neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, risk­ing se­ri­ous health ef­fects in­clud­ing dam­age to their lungs, brains and other or­gans. Of that global to­tal, 300 mil­lion kids are ex­posed to pol­lu­tion lev­els more than six times higher that stan­dards set by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, in­clud­ing 220 mil­lion in South Asia.

For the In­dian cap­i­tal, the alarm­ing num­bers are hardly a sur­prise. New Delhi’s air pol­lu­tion, among the world’s worst, spikes ev­ery win­ter be­cause of weak winds and count­less garbage fires set alight to help peo­ple stay warm.

Even days be­fore the city erupted in an­nual fire­works cel­e­bra­tions for Di­wali, recorded lev­els of tiny, lung­clog­ging par­tic­u­late mat­ter known as PM 2.5 on Fri­day were con­sid­ered dan­ger­ous at well

above 300 mi­cro­grams per cu­bic me­tre. By Mon­day morn­ing, the city was record­ing PM 2.5 lev­els above 900 mcg per cu­bic me­tre – more than 90 times higher than the WHO rec­om­men­da­tion of no more than 10 mcg per cu­bic me­tre. New Delhi res­i­dents were ad­vised to stay indoors, with health warn­ings is­sued for the young, el­derly and those with res­pi­ra­tory or heart con­di­tions. Of­fi­cials said the high pol­lu­tion lev­els were made worse by the on­go­ing burn­ing of spent crops in agri­cul­tural fields in neigh­bour­ing Pun­jab and Haryana states. Chil­dren face much higher health risks from air pol­lu­tion than adults. Chil­dren breathe twice as quickly, tak­ing in more air in re­la­tion to their body weight, while their brains and im­mune sys­tems are still de­vel­op­ing. “The im­pact is com­men­su­rately shock­ing,” with 600,000 chil­dren younger than 5 across the world dy­ing ev­ery year from air pol­lu­tion-re­lated dis­ease, UNICEF Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor An­thony Lake said in the re­port. “Mil­lions more suf­fer from res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases that di­min­ish their re­silience and af­fect their phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive de­vel­op­ment. Of the 2 billion chil­dren world­wide breath­ing un­healthy air, the re­port puts 620 mil­lion of them in South Asia – mostly north­ern In­dia. Another 520 mil­lion chil­dren are breath­ing toxic air in Africa, and 450 mil­lion in East Asia, mainly China, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, which com­bined satel­lite images of pol­lu­tion and ground data with de­mo­graphic pat­terns to de­ter­mine the high­est risk ar­eas.

Since be­ing iden­ti­fied as one of the world’s most pol­luted cities in re­cent years, New Delhi has tried to clean its air. It has barred cargo trucks from city streets, re­quired driv­ers to buy newer cars that meet higher emis­sions stan­dards and car­ried out sev­eral weeks of ex­per­i­men­tal traf­fic con­trol. But other pol­lu­tion sources in­clud­ing con­struc­tion dust and cook­ing fires con­tinue un­abated.

Last week, the city launched an app called Change the Air, invit­ing res­i­dents to send pho­tos and com­plaints about il­le­gal pol­lu­tion sources, from the burn­ing of leaves and garbage to con­struc­tion crews work­ing with­out dust con­trol mea­sures.

Chil­dren breathe twice as quickly as adults, tak­ing in more air in re­la­tion to their body weight.

SMOG: Pol­lu­tion fills the air above New Delhi

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