On November 2nd, the air quality of Delhi entered the red zone (i.e., ‘very poor’) for the first time this season. Currently, air pollution is the second-largest public health risk in India. What does it mean for the people living under the red zone?

Along with respiratory issues among people at risk, poor air quality also affects the health of the heart and cardiovascular system. It has become widespread for people living under the current state of air to have irritation in the eyes, nose, throat, feelings of claustrophobia in closed spaces without an air purifier. And of course, with prolonged exposure to polluted air, serious health problems are instigated.

Who is at the most risk posed by contaminated air?

1. Children

Children have narrow air passages. It takes less inflammation and irritation to thwart the airways, making it more likely for children to have aggravated effects of air pollution.

2. People living in poverty

Due to the lack of access to healthcare, they are more likely to have worse effects caused by air pollution.

3. Homeless people

People without homes are at the risk of living near traffic and in proximity to the sources of pollution.

4. Traffic policemen

Due to the time spent on busy roadways, they are more exposed to vehicular emissions and poor air quality across the region.

5. Senior citizens

With comorbidities such as diabetes, thyroid or other cardiovascular diseases, older people are at greater risk caused by polluted air.

6. Adults

This includes everyone going out for errands.

And if you noticed, the list above covers almost everyone. Contaminated air does not discriminate; thus, nobody is safe from the air that we currently breathe. Can you identify further susceptible people and clusters? If yes, you are thinking in the right direction. And we must recognize the people who are most severely impacted by polluted air, the individuals who face the brunt of this unending epidemic.

Moreover, air pollution has become a pan-India problem, wherein almost every person living in India breathes air below the quality standards prescribed by the World Health Organisation. This has become a slow, tasteless poison that is choking Indian cities. In Delhi alone, the residents were exposed to poor air for more than half of the previous year (Kurinji et al., 2021).

What can be done to remain shielded against contaminated air?

1.     Wear N95 or N99 masks if you can afford them. Otherwise, a mildly wet clean handkerchief may simulate a cover against polluted air, considering there are no leakages.

2.     Be air aware: download the SAFAR app. Air quality monitoring is very critical to grasp the risk associated with the most exposed area.

3.     Move to cleaner forms of transports, carpool, combine trips.

4.     Ask the right questions to your local representatives.

5.     Talk, discuss, deliberate: create awareness among your neighbourhood about the risks associated with poor air quality.

6.     Plant more trees: indoors; outdoors and take care of them.

7.     Get involved: join and/or build communities.

For more, please see:

1.     Real-time Air Quality Index (AQI): https://aqicn.org/city/delhi

2.     All about India and air pollution: https://indiaaq.blog

3.     India’s largest platform on climate change, pollution, and sustainability stories: https://letmebreathe.in

4.     Kurinji, L. S, Adeel Khan, and Tanushree Ganguly. 2021. Bending Delhi’s Pollution Curve: Learnings from 2020 to Improve 2021. New Delhi: Council on Energy, Environment and Water. Access online at: https://www.ceew.in/publications/delhi-winter-pollution-control-measures