Bhajan Lal is an auto rickshaw driver navigating the Indian capitals chaotic roads and poisonous air.
Over the past 30 years, Lal carted passengers in New Delhi, to work every day through the winter months. This is when a pall of toxic smog settles over the sprawling Megacity.
“The pollution causes a lot of problems for my throat. My eyes sting…. My lungs are affected, which creates breathing problems. Mucus builds up and collects in my chest,” the 58-year-old said.
New Delhi is consistently ranked the world’s worst capital for air quality. To make matters worse, smog can cut visibility on the roads to barely 50 meters on its most polluted days.
Levels of PM2.5 pollutants — the microparticles most harmful to human health, which can enter the bloodstream through the lungs — last week reached over 30 times the maximum limit recommended by the WHO.
“I felt so sorry looking at children and their health. They are already getting sick,” Lal said.
Many who can’t afford the luxury of escaping the choking air suffer severe health impacts.
This week, authorities took the drastic step of ordering six of the eleven coal power plants in Delhi to close until further notice.
City officials also shut down schools indefinitely, barred trucks except those carrying essential goods as well. Until next week, these will not access the capital and on top of this, civil servants were asked to work from home.
Authorities are struggling to address the root cause, with National coal consumption nearly doubling in the last decade.
In the past, winters in the capital were appreciated for their mild weather after long scotching summer months. However, they have now become an annual endurance test for its inhabitants.
“I find it so difficult to breathe living in Delhi. Sometimes I feel I should leave the city. It then where should I go?” Said a local resident Dinesen Doval.
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