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