So, my son just started going to the BIG school, and it was cause for big celebrations in the family with calls coming in from friends and family, telling me how the little one’s life is on track for the next 13 years or so. But, is it really?
The prospect of having him in this city for a majority of the next 13 years is a daunting one, given the kind of life we lead in Delhi. We live in the city with the worst air quality in the world. Air quality index is generally Moderate (101-200) between January to September, and then it drastically deteriorates to Very Poor (301-400), Severe (401-500) or Hazardous (500+) between October to December. This last winter we had in Delhi was a long one and a good one apparently, as we hadn’t had this kind of proper ‘cold’ in the past few years. But it was also a terribly polluted one.
It was a winter of many warnings and hazards, a winter where we had to suspend morning walks and cancel outdoor activities for the children. Anyone who has a child will know how much kids love the outdoors, and what kind of an evil scheme this might be for them. Everyone should be able to enjoy the warm sunshine on a cold winter day, to go for picnics and outdoor events, without it being a risk! There are already so many hurdles and issues to overcome when you are a working parent with a child.
It was a winter of many warnings and hazards, a winter where we had to suspend morning walks and cancel outdoor activities for the children.
In my son’s Montessori pre-school, the timings had to be changed to be from 10am, due to the heavy smog and pollution in the early mornings. All sports activities and outdoor playtime was suspended, and it was made compulsory to wear masks while coming to school, and while being outdoors. I failed miserably at convincing my son to wear a mask, even though I tried my best to explain its need to him. It was heart breaking to see so many little babies wearing masks. Poor little babies scrambling around playing, singing, painting, screaming, all the while with their small mouths muffled with masks. Every morning as I entered school, it felt like I was in some science fiction movie, with all those around me, from the teachers to the support staff in masks. There were air purifiers everywhere – at home, in school, in the library, in the play areas, in the car, everywhere possible. I couldn’t help but wonder about those who had no access to these purifiers. What must their children go through?
It was heart breaking to see so many little babies wearing masks. Poor little babies scrambling around playing, singing, painting, screaming, all the while with their small mouths muffled with masks.
As per the figures, in India, air pollution is the third highest cause of death among all health risks, ranking even above smoking. Every year, more people die from air pollution related diseases than from road traffic injuries or malaria. As per records, long-term exposure to air pollution contributed to nearly five million deaths from stroke, diabetes, heart attack, lung cancer and chronic lung disease in 2017. Out of these, three million deaths are directly attributed to PM2.5 (PM=Particulate Matter), half of which are generated from just India and China.
As per a study titled “State of Global Air 2019,” the average life of a South Asian child growing up in the current high levels of air pollution will be shortened by two and a half years. This means that a child born today will die 2.5 years sooner, on average, than would be expected without air pollution. That is a really scary prospect, and one that makes me want to leave this city, and country along with my child. Doing a little bit of research on my own, here’s what I found:
- Children are more at risk from the effects of pollution since they have faster breathing rates, and their lungs are still developing.
- Children exposed to high pollution are more likely to have reduced lung function as adults.
- Long term exposure to air pollution may cause Asthma in children.
- Pregnant women exposed to air pollution can cause hinder the development of the brain and lead to cognitive problems later in the children.
As per the WHO, in Delhi, poor air quality irreversibly damages the lungs of 2.2 million or 50% of all children. There’s no way of sugar coating this, and as a parent, I am afraid for my child.
If this is not a national emergency, then what is?! Our children are the future, and the future is at stake here!
Leher is an entrepreneur and social activist. She is secretary to the Indian Council of UN Relations & Indian Council of Human Relations and Director of the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana for Village Majra Dabbas in North-west Delhi.
The views expressed are the author’s own.
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