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The Smog is Harming Delhi's Children the Most: 'Like Inhaling Poison'
Science & Health

The Smog is Harming Delhi’s Children the Most: ‘Like Inhaling Poison’

Unable to breathe properly, 1-month-old Ayansh Tiwari lies in a hospital bed wearing a nebulizer mask as he cries. His doctors attribute his condition to the noxious air that plagues New Delhi annually.

During the winter season in the Indian capital of New Delhi, the government-run Chacha Nehru Bal Chikitsalaya hospital’s emergency room is filled with children who are struggling to breathe. Many of these children suffer from asthma and pneumonia, which are exacerbated by the high levels of air pollution in the city of 30 million people.

Delhi regularly ranks among the most polluted major cities on the planet, with a melange of factory and vehicle emissions exacerbated by seasonal agricultural fires.

Julie Tiwari, 26, Ayansh’s mother, remarked that there is toxic smog present wherever you look while gently cradling her baby in her lap to soothe him.

She explained to AFP that she attempts to minimize the amount of time the doors and windows are open, but it feels like constantly inhaling harmful toxins. She expressed a sense of helplessness while holding back tears.

According to the monitoring company IQAir, on Thursday, the amount of PM2.5 particles, which are the smallest and most dangerous and can be absorbed into the bloodstream, exceeded 390 micrograms per cubic meter. This is over 25 times higher than the daily maximum advised by the World Health Organization.

The government’s attempts to address the air quality issue in the country have been unsuccessful. According to a report in the Lancet medical journal, 1.67 million deaths in 2019 were linked to air pollution in the world’s most populated country.

‘Maddening rush’

“At this time, our emergency room is experiencing a chaotic influx,” stated Dhulika Dhingra, a pediatric pulmonologist at the hospital that caters to impoverished communities in one of Delhi’s highly polluted regions.

The polluted air greatly affects kids, causing detrimental effects on their well-being and growth.

According to a report by UNICEF, scientific research has revealed that children who inhale polluted air have a greater likelihood of developing acute respiratory infections. This report was released last year.

A research article published in the Lung India journal in 2021 revealed that approximately 33% of schoolchildren in Delhi were diagnosed with asthma and airflow obstruction.

Younger individuals are at a higher risk of being affected by air pollution compared to adults due to their faster breathing rate and underdeveloped brains, lungs, and other organs.

Dhingra explained that due to their constant movement, they are unable to remain in one location and this causes an increase in their respiratory rate. As a result, they are more susceptible to the negative impacts of pollution.

“They are struggling to breathe in this season, making it very challenging for them.”

Imtiaz Qureshi, a vendor of vegetables, had to take his 11-month-old son, Mohammad Arsalan, to the hospital due to respiratory problems. He was kept there for the night.

The distressed 40-year-old, who pushes his cart through the streets daily, expressed, “We must endure living in this air constantly.”

“If I leave my house, the pollution could be lethal. But if I stay inside, I may face financial struggles.”

‘Toxic environment’

The hospital offers complimentary medical care and medication to its patients, as they are unable to afford private healthcare and even basic amenities like air purifiers for their small homes in the overcrowded slums of the city.

The director of the hospital, Seema Kapoor, stated that there has been a consistent increase in the number of patients since the temperature dropped, causing pollutants to become trapped near the ground.

According to her, respiratory illnesses account for approximately 30-40% of the overall attendance.

The advice from Pulmonologist Dhingra to parents is to limit their children’s outdoor activities as much as possible.

“Consider advising a parent against allowing their child to go outside and play in this hazardous atmosphere.”

In an effort to lower pollution levels, the Delhi government has declared emergency school closures, halted construction, and restricted the entry of diesel vehicles into the city.

However, the practice of stubble burning by farmers in nearby agricultural states, which is a major contributor to pollution in Delhi, continues without restriction. This drew criticism from the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The court stated that the polluted air in Delhi is causing the “complete destruction of our youth.”

28-year-old Arshi Wasim, a homemaker, took her 18-month-old daughter Nida Wasim to the hospital for treatment of pneumonia.

“She has a constant cough,” she explained. “Due to her congested lungs, she is unable to consume milk or even water. On occasions, we have to administer oxygen and quickly bring her to the doctor multiple times throughout the day.”

“Each year, the situation repeats itself.”