Toxic air pollution forces expats to flee Delhi

Published:  22 Nov at 6 PM
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Tagged: India
With air pollution over New Delhi recently at dangerous levels, expats are packing up and leaving in order to protect their health.

Pollution during the winter season is a perennial problem for the city, but this year the toxic smog is worse than ever and is seriously endangering the health of residents and their families. The thick, grey covering over the city is caused by a combination of paddy crop burning in the adjacent states of Punjab and Haryana, adverse weather conditions and pollution from traffic and industry. At its worst, levels were seen to be 12 times more than the permissible limits, with the fine particle matter responsible for increased rates of heart disease, lung cancer and chronic bronchitis.

One full-time expat parent described her family’s attempts to keep their home pollution-free by shutting and taping around all balcony doors and windows, purchasing air purifiers and wearing masks indoors as well as outdoors. The family, including their 14-month old daughter, left the city when the pollution was at its worst. Mary Roy from Singapore has lived in Delhi for nine years, but returned to her former home for four days for the sake of her daughter, who couldn’t stop coughing.

The Delhi government has introduced emergency measures including the closure of primary schools and the stopping of all construction work in the city, and the Diplomatic Corps representing 150 embassies has issued formal complaints about the pollution to India’s Ministry of External Affairs. Tourism authorities are complaining about the effect on visitors of the noxious smog, with 350 tour operators completing a survey showing the effects of the unbreathable air on visitor numbers.

According to industry experts, even domestic tourists are avoiding the city. Since last weekend, the levels of harmful pollutants have fallen slightly, although they’re still high enough to worry parents and those with weak chests. Head of the Indian Association of Tour Operators agrees the problem is serious, but claims it’s not restricted to Delhi as the majority of mega-cities have pollution issues.
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