#VOA. | the Indian capital is struggling to breathe

“I do not know where the solution will come from against this pollution which is killing us,” Vijay Satokar told AFP. For this inhabitant of the capital, Delhi is like “a gas chamber”.

The Indian capital regularly tops the world rankings for the dangerousness of the air we breathe there.

The levels of PM2.5 – the particulate matter particularly harmful to health, penetrating the blood and lungs – reached more than 30 times the maximum daily limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO) last week.

“In total lack of oxygen”

“The pollution causes me a lot of trouble, (in particular) in the throat”, confides to AFP Bhanjan Lal, sitting on the seat of his scooter.

“My eyes are burning (…) My lungs are damaged, I have difficulty breathing”, adds the 58-year-old man, according to whom “the mucus accumulates in my chest”. His incessant cough bears witness to this.

Mr. Lal spends his life crisscrossing Delhi’s intense traffic, including in winter, when pollution is at its height and a thick toxic fog settles over the megalopolis of 20 million people.

Emissions from factories, vehicle exhaust and slash-and-burn from neighboring states form a yellowish haze that you can cut with a knife. Nothing can be seen more than 50 meters away.

AFP accompanied Mr. Lal to a consultation with his doctor, who treats him of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a progressive disease that hinders the flow of oxygen.

According to doctor Vivek Nangia, the first symptoms of the disease are “a simple cough, a cold, shortness of breath, chest tightness”.

Then “it can evolve into a state where the affected person is totally out of breath, in total lack of oxygen”.

The patient may end up “needing BiPAP assistance at home”, he specifies in reference to a small machine for respiratory assistance. It helps regulate breathing during sleep or when symptoms get worse.

If Mr. Lal “does not follow his treatment, his airways will continue to constrict and his condition will gradually worsen.”

The fragmented efforts of the public authorities to control pollution, such as this campaign which invites drivers to turn off their engines at fires, have had no effect.

“It saddens me when I think of children and their health,” said Lal: “They are already getting sick”.

Its business is also suffering. He sometimes travels the city for long hours without finding passengers, who prefer a more expensive taxi ride rather than exposure to pollution.

Confinement anti-pollution ?

This week, authorities took a drastic step by ordering the temporary shutdown of six of the eleven coal-fired power plants around Delhi.

They also closed schools indefinitely, asked officials to work from home and banned trucks, except those carrying essential food, from entering the capital until next week.

However, they ignored the Indian Supreme Court’s appeal for “containment” due to pollution.

It is responsible for more than a million deaths per year in the country and according to a recent study by the University of Chicago, air pollution could reduce the life expectancy of four in ten Indians by more than nine years. .

But governments are struggling to tackle the root causes of the problem, as national coal consumption has nearly doubled over the past decade.

India fought against more ambitious restrictions on fossil fuels at COP26 in Glasgow, its dependence on cheap coal fueling its booming economy.

And the winters in the capital, once expected for their freshness after the hell of the hot summer months, bring even more painful ordeals.

“It has become so difficult to breathe in Delhi,” admits Dinesh Dova, a resident of the capital: “Sometimes I think to myself that I should leave the city. But where to go?”

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Source: VOA-AFP.

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