The famous 'Dilli Ki Sardi' (Delhi's winter) phenomenon, which, until just a few years back, attracted both international and domestic tourists to the city from October to February. They would attend music, art, and dance events, enjoy early morning walks in the old lanes of Delhi with delicious brunches, and celebrate weddings amid the dense but mesmerising fog in the open.
But not anymore.
The national capital and its nearby areas are now shrouded in deadly smog with hazardous pollutants as winter sets in. Healthcare providers are warning people to avoid early morning and late evening outings.
Hospitals are witnessing a surge in people suffering from respiratory illnesses year after year. According to doctors, even otherwise healthy people of all ages are now experiencing difficulties due to the onset of air pollution during the festive season.
So, what has gone wrong with 'Dilli Ki Sardi'? Despite policymakers proposing various solutions to curb air pollution over the last 7-8 years, the problem keeps worsening, shortening the average Indian's life expectancy.
According to health experts, air pollution, a complex mixture of particulate matter, gases, and biological compounds, poses a silent threat to human health, leading to various medical conditions.
The origins of air pollution, including vehicular emissions and industrial activities, create a complex web of causative factors. However, there is a clear policy paralysis in addressing this grave issue.
Despite significant investments in smog towers, the initiation of various stages of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), encouragement of public transport, and efforts to reduce stubble burning, air pollution returns every winter, becoming more lethal.
The result is a grim situation for millions of people who must now take care of their health to the best of their abilities, often using air purifiers within their homes.
Dr. Nikhil Modi, Senior Consultant in Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, explained that particulate matter, especially PM2.5 and PM10, enters the respiratory system, leading to inflammation, oxidative stress, and impaired lung function.
Gaseous pollutants like nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and ozone (O3) exacerbate respiratory distress, worsen existing conditions, and contribute to cardiovascular problems.
Preventive measures, such as strict emission controls, promoting renewable energy sources, and creating green spaces in urban areas, are crucial. Additionally, individuals can help by reducing their reliance on vehicles, supporting green transportation options, and improving indoor air quality through ventilation and air purifiers.
Treatment for respiratory illnesses due to air pollution includes bronchodilators, corticosteroids, and supplementary oxygen for managing severe conditions. Lifestyle changes, like regular exercise, a balanced diet, and respiratory rehabilitation programs, also play an essential role in enhancing the body's resilience. Innovative research explores novel treatments, including antioxidant therapies to counteract oxidative stress caused by air pollutants.
Vaccines against specific respiratory infections exacerbated by air pollution are under exploration to strengthen the immune system against heightened risks.
Governments and industries can adopt cleaner technologies, stricter emissions standards, and promote public transportation and electric vehicles to reduce traffic-related pollution. However, the citizens' ability to address this issue on their own is limited without a long-term, foolproof strategy from policymakers to prevent this deadly situation every winter.
According to the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) report for 2023 by the University of Chicago's Energy Policy Institute, air pollution can shorten the lives of Delhi residents by around 11.9 years. The study found that India's population of over 1.4 billion lives with an annual average particulate pollution level exceeding the 5 µg/m3 limit set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Approximately 67.4% of Indians live in areas that exceed the country's national air quality standard of 40 µg/m3.
Experts emphasise the need for a collaborative effort, combining medical expertise, environmental stewardship, and public policy, to combat the adverse health effects of air pollution. Rigorous research, stringent regulations, and community engagement are essential for a healthier and breathable future. A collective commitment to combat air pollution not only preserves human well-being but also safeguards the planet for generations to come.
The above article has been published from a wire agency with minimal modifications to the headline and text.