My husband and I knew a bit about Delhi’s air pollution problem before we arrived almost two years ago. My husband’s employer told him about it; we read articles in newspapers and talked to friends of ours who were already living in Delhi. So, we felt pretty informed and prepared to face the air pollution when we arrived. What we found was that no one or no article can prepare you for what the air actually smells like and how it will affect your health.
What I found is that out of everyone in my family – my husband and I have two boys – I’m the most sensitive to the air pollution. The first winter in Delhi I fell ill regularly with headaches, dizziness, fatigue and a feeling of “stuff” in my throat that wouldn’t go away no matter how much I swallowed and drank water or tea. I knew that I couldn’t continue living in Delhi feeling ill all the time and so started to research home air purifiers and masks – solutions that I felt were accessible and within my control. I also found out about the air quality index (AQI) websites that report data on the air quality throughout the day.
I quickly outfitted our house with air purifiers because I could sense that the seal around our windows were not air-tight. I could smell the outdoor air coming in and polluting the inside of our house. I also bought masks and wore them whenever I would go outside. Lucky for me, these solutions did work. I definitely could feel the difference. I wasn’t ill as much.
Delhi’s air pollution is bad, shockingly so and it doesn’t seem to be getting much better. Small solutions like home air purifiers and masks are good to protect your health, but now I’m starting to think about the source of the problem. Some may say that we should leave India alone to go through growth, development and industrialization just like the rest of the developed countries when they did it. If we say ok to leaving India alone, then are we also accepting the horribly bad sanitation and hygiene practices, high disease, death rates, poverty and pollution that plagued the era of industrialization? That’s just unacceptable.
Technologies exist. Cleaner fuels exist. Proven practices, strategies and policies exist. In my view, there is nothing holding India back to getting it right now. It’s just a question of citizen awareness and generating political will to mobilize change.
Susan Perez is a global health advocate and activist. While her expertise has primarily been in the areas of HIV, tuberculosis and reproductive health, she has become more interested and concerned about the impact of air pollution on health. Currently Susan runs her own global health consulting firm.
Tell us your personal stories on how you battle air pollution in your daily life and in your community.