New Delhi, India (BBN)-Saksham Sharma, 12, struggles to breathe each day and uses a nebuliser at night to deliver medicines in vapour form to help his lungs function.
The recent burst of rain that settled the dust in Delhi has brought him no respite.
That’s because while visible air pollution may drop when it rains, air quality gets worse as clouds trap toxic gases at ground level, the HindustanTimes.
Toxins, gases and other air pollutants hang low when the sky is overcast, which aggravates asthma and other respiratory symptoms.
Children are the worst hit because their developing immune system, lungs and airways are not as strong as those of adults,” said Dr Randeed Guleria, professor and head of department of pulmonary medicine and sleep disorders, AIIMS.
Saksham had his first attack when he was just three. Since then, it’s been getting progressively worse.
We live in constant fear of him getting an asthma attack,” says Usha Sharma, the Class 7 DPS Noida student’s grandmother who takes care of him when his parents are away at work.
Sharma is among the many thousands of children who have asthma and other breathing disorders triggered and aggravated by Delhi’s air he dirtiest for any city in the world, according to the World Health Organisation.
Forty percent of Delhi’s children have weak lungs, showed a four-city survey of 2,000 children released last month. Lung damage was worst among the Capital’s children with 21% of those affected having very low lung function.
Worried parents are either keeping their children indoors or considering the extreme step of leaving the city. “I once took my baby son to a crowded market and he started coughing soon after.
It was then that I realised the extent of the problem. Now I just keep my children home,” says Rashmi Valecha, 35, a business consultant and mother of two.
Delhi’s air pollution higher than WHO’s prescribed limit
Delhi’s air pollution levels exceed the limits prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the government said in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.
The air quality monitoring data for Delhi provided by the Central Pollution Control Board indicates that the levels of particulate matter (PM2.5) exceed the WHO guidelines by a “factor of 7 to 12″, environment minister Prakash Javadekar said.
WHO published Air Quality Guidelines for Europe in 1987 and 2000, and had brought out a global update 10 years ago.
India took into account the norms while revisiting and notifying the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), comprising 12 pollutants.
The data of air quality monitored by the Greenpeace in five schools of Delhi are exceeding and are in similar range,” he said.
While replying to questions, the minister also informed that the Delhi government had come out with a long term and short term measures last month so as to improve ambient air quality in the capital.
The ministry of environment, forest and climate change has asked for a time targeted implementation plan by March 31, 2015,” he added.
A comprehensive air quality index would soon be launched and monitoring stations will be set up on 66 cities having population of 10 lakh or more.
The government has taken various measures to contain air pollution in the country, including supply of cleaner fuels, stringent source specific emission standards for air polluting industries and implementation of revised emission norms for gensets and cement plants,” he said.
Details were yet to be finalised though by the environment ministry on acceptance of the TSR Subramanian Committee recommendation for enactment of a new umbrella law ‘Environment Laws (Management) Act.
The minister, however, made it clear that every recommendation of the committee may not be accepted by the government.
Beijing better than Delhi: Only 7 days of good air in Capital in 2yrs
Delhi’s air is consistently more toxic than that in Beijing, rigorous statistical comparison of two years’ worth of data from both cities has shown for the first time.
The Indian capital’s air was “healthy”, according to US air quality standards, for just seven days in the last 730, while Beijing hit the mark 58 times.
Delhi has consistently worse conditions across the board, according to Professor Douw Steyn of the University of British Columbia, an air pollution expert who performed the analysis for HT, using hourly results from the pollution monitoring station at RK Puram in Delhi and the US embassy in Beijing.
His assessment aims to cut through the debate around seasonal variation on what overall proportion of time both cities spend at each level of pollution, from healthy through hazardous.
Unpolluted (healthy) conditions were found in Delhi for less than 1% of the time while such conditions exist in Beijing approximately for 8% of the time,” said Steyn, who has done research on air pollution across the world for more than two decades.
The data shows that in Delhi, the level of microfine particles known as PM 2.5, seen as the most dangerous, is above the “hazardous” level 17% of the time, or nearly one day in five. At these levels, according to the US definition, “everyone may experience serious health effects”.
In Beijing, where local authorities have introduced several air pollution control measures in recent years, only 7% of days or one in 14 reached this catastrophic level.
he new analysis is important, Steyn argues, because “comparisons based on annual average pollution concentrations, such as presented by the World Health Organization, ignore the fact that the intermittently occurring severe days have strong human health effects. Comparisons based on individual days ignore the effects of different weather conditions in the two cities”.
Gufran Beig of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), however, disputed the finding, saying comparing pollution levels at RK Puram with the US embassy in Beijing was not correct because of a huge geographical difference between the two locations.
The US embassy is outside the polluted zone of Beijing and has a lush green area on one side and a big water body on the other, both contributing to pollution sequestration.
RK Puram is middle of Delhi and is next to the congested Ring Road without any sequestration zones,” he said, adding that pollution levels in Delhi are higher than Beijing only during winter months.
Steyn used the more stringent air quality index (AQI) of the United States for a fair comparison and therefore, his results are more alarming than the recently launched Indian air quality index, which had some good air days for Delhi in March.
The US index equates air quality of a city on six parameters moderate, unhealthy for some, unhealthy, very unhealthy and hazardous and is much more stringent than the Indian one. Air quality that India’s AQI considers moderate is considered unhealthy in the US.
Steyn’s analysis appears to settle beyond doubt the debate over which city is worse off.
The question for Delhi residents is whether local authorities are committed to resolving the problem.
Anumita Roy Choudhary, associate director general at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said Delhi needs to learn from Beijing on enforcing tough measures to improve air quality.
In the Chinese capital, vehicles with even and odd number licence plates are allowed to run on alternate days, heavy-duty diesel vehicles have been retrofitted to reduce emissions, stringent norms have been enforced for all vehicles and polluting industries have been closed.
On the other hand, both governments the Centre and Delhi have been dilly-dallying on a plan to reduce air pollution despite a series of orders by the National Green Tribunal in the last six months. Both governments have spoken about piecemeal measures and are opposed to banning vehicles more than 10 years old running on diesel.
The cost of pollution reduction is far smaller than the costs of pollution damage and simple technological solutions are easily available.
What is needed is political will, which can only come from an informed and engaged population,” Steyn said. On this, Beig was in agreement.
Delhi children suffer from irreversible lung damage as pollution levels spike daily
Nearly half of Delhi’s 4.4 million school children suffer from irreversible lung damage from the poisonous air, wrote New York Times journalist Gardiner Harris in his last post from the capital after a three-year-assignment.
The shocking article that went viral on social media and reproduced by some dailies reflected the concerns of thousands of parents whose children are suffering from severe respiratory problems, unable to deal with the rising pollutants and toxic particles in the capital’s air.
Harris wrote about how his 8-year old son, Bram, began gasping for breath nine months after he moved with his family to Delhi.
Such terrifying experiences are common for parents in the capital where an increasing number of children suffer from coughing and wheezing, symptoms of a much more dangerous malaise.
Pallavi Sinha, 40, is scouting for a house in Pune. The Sinhas had moved to Indirapuram in Ghaziabad 10 years ago. But when their 10-year-old daughter Smriti suffered an asthma attack on Diwali last year, they decided to move out of the city.
We had started to fear Diwali ever since we moved to Delhi from Patna a decade ago. Smriti’s collapse last October because of high air pollution was the last straw, we’re all moving to Pune,” said Sinha, speaking to HT from Pune.
When they had moved to Delhi, Sinha’s older daughter Ahana was 5 and Smriti was just a few months old. The baby first developed signs of lung distress at the age 3, which progressively became worse. At school, she occasionally faints on exertion.
It is hard to make friends at school as I can’t run and join them in sports,” says Smriti, 10. Ahana’s lungs took a hit at the age of 11, after she had spent six years in Delhi. Both have been diagnosed with asthma and use inhalers.
Asthma has jeopardised Saksham Sharma’s childhood too, with the 12-year old spending all day playing video games or watching TV.
I hate it when other kids play outside and I have to sit at home. At school, too, I’m excused from sports because of my bad lungs,” says Sharma.
Doctors say that even mild symptoms must not be ignored.
Many doctors treat the exacerbations and attacks and do not bother with baseline asthma control, which is critical.
A child who may not become breathless may have an attack the moment his/her system is challenged, like when he goes out to play, and the lungs collapse,” says paediatrician Dr Anupam Sibal, director, hospital services, Apollo Hospitals.
Since most medicines, specially inhalers, contain steroids, it triggers weight gain.
Dr Sibal explains that asthma can be managed effectively with medicines but parents need to follow-up regularly so that the medication can be enhanced or reduced as per the requirements of the case.
I’m really careful about what he eats, but we can’t ration his medicine,” says Saksham’s grandmother Usha Sharma, 66, who looks after him when his parents are at work.
Every bit helps, as Saksham’s grandfather PD Sharma, 75, has found out. He has created a micro-garden in his terrace for Sakham to spend time in.
I love gardening but the main reason for these plants is Saksham’s health. Delhi’s pollution is a nightmare for my grandson, I’m just doing the best I can for him,” says Sharma.