The AQI in New Delhi and the NCR area in the past few days has reached severe levels again, prompting the authorities to shut down schools until levels hopefully come down. This is the second time in two weeks that schools have been shut in the capital due to the severity of the air pollution. This is a public health emergency on a scale so unimaginable that we haven’t yet been able to look it in the eye and accept what it could be doing to us, our parents, our children. The long term health impact is yet to be charted, despite the research reports that tell us how pollution impacts longevity, brain function, and more.

Since I’m into the event space, work is also at its peak during this time and going out of the city is difficult. In fact even air purifiers aren’t a solution. It is a frustrating situation to be in! – Leher Sethi

Emergency wards in hospitals are crowded with those whose bodies can’t deal with the toxicity of the air. Children, the elderly, those who are dealing with chronic illnesses to begin with, those with compromised immunity, have been at greatest risk. For most, the only solution to dealing with this toxic air might be to move out of the city and the surrounding areas, to become pollution refugees. But this too, might not be an option for most who have jobs, businesses, extended dependent family, etc here. An online survey conducted by the digital platform LocalCircles found that 40 per cent of the respondents from Delhi and the NCR would like to move elsewhere if they could, but 31 per cent were optimistic that they could manage by staying back with air purifiers, face masks and other measures. Those who must stay back are caught in a hopeless situation, where they know are breathing in toxic air, and yet are unable to shift out to protect themselves or their children from this toxicity because of various factors.

Says Leher Sethi, who has a four-year-old, and is an event planner, “A lot of the people I know have started moving out of the city during these months. I just met some people yesterday who are considering investing in a house in Goa to get away during this time. I’ve also considered moving to my parents’ house for a while, in order to help my four-year-old escape the pollution. But since I’m into the event space, work is also at its peak during this time and going out of the city is difficult. In fact even air purifiers aren’t a solution. It is a frustrating situation to be in!” Her sentiments are echoed by Shaili Chopra, Founder, SheThePeople.TV who says, “Having schools shut for prolonged periods, kids restricted to a room, many just stuck watching TV – we are all struggling as parents. This air is a national emergency and I don’t hear enough being said. Or being done.”

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Noida resident Dipali Taneja bemoans the fact that the most beautiful time of the year in Delhi is now a time when residents have to confine themselves indoors. She says, “When Delhi is home for you, it is not always an option to leave the city for a few months in the year, or permanently, because of the seasonal air pollution. A home means a lifetime, often generations of belonging to a place. Huge personal resources go into the making of a home. Jobs and education are factors not to be sneezed at. The biggest tragedy is that this is the time of year that used to have the most delightful weather, the time of year that we eagerly looked forward to, when we were wearing our cotton sarees one last time, before packing them away for the season, and our silks gleamed shyly at their first outings of the year. Now we remain indoors, close to our air purifiers, a modern day necessity symbolic of the toxic mess our beloved city has turned into.”

When Delhi is home for you, it is not always an option to leave the city for a few months in the year, or permanently, because of the seasonal air pollution. A home means a lifetime, often generations of belonging to a place.- Dipali Taneja

Independent publishing consultant Jaya Bhattacharji Rose says, “If you are caregiving the two bookends of life, escaping the pollution of Delhi to better places like the hills, does not even enter our scheme. We have to do our best here. Of course, it keeps us, my husband and I –  the caregivers, on tenterhooks regarding respiratory ailments that an elderly paralyzed and bedridden patient and a small child may get. And of course our nightmares came true this week. For no fault of theirs, both the vulnerable categories of folks in our home fell ill. What is really frightening is not necessarily watching them fall ill but the total lack of apathy by the powers to remedy this situation.”

“I head the publishing at a school books publisher. Manage the whole programme, based out of Delhi, educating the future of our country, reaching out to children with messages of syncretism, brotherhood. I could not be doing anything nobler, and cannot do it except from Delhi because the operations are based here.” says Atiya Zaidi, Publisher.

While Rupali Trehan, Coach and Founder, My Daily Cup of Joy, was told, “Relocate or Suffocate, “Please leave Delhi”, advises my peadiatrician, when treating my four year old for his chest infection. How ironic is the situation when as parents, living in the capital, you contemplate uprooting your children’s existing lives for their longevity. Absurd and unreal as it may sound, it is a thought floating around the toxic air surrounding us. Relocate ? In other words, shut your present work or just manage it from another city. Simple. Since you need to choose between your child learning or living longer, forget about the school that you probably worked hardest upon to get your child admitted into. Simple. Family and friends – the part you build your life around, will always be there in your hearts, even if you don’t see or meet them as often. Simple. Your ageing parents basking under the glory of the memories they created, should either relocate with you or visit you as often as possible. Simple. After all, relocate or suffocate. Simple.”

Most parents are also worried about the schools being closed at regular intervals and the fact that most schools and educational institutions aren’t really equipped to conduct classes long-distance or virtually to make up for lost sessions, especially at the senior classes. With the situation in the region continuing to be severe, it remains to be seen how the government tackles these days of severe pollution. For those who cannot move to towns and cities with better air, there is no option but to wait these days out, and hope they get through with minimal health impact.

Image Credit: PTI

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