India is the third-largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, following closely behind China and the United States. And today, people in the nation’s capital are breathing air that’s over 25 times more toxic than the guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO). With a high concentration of PM2.5, it’s virtually impossible to escape the toxic smog in Delhi this year.
What does this mean though? PM2.5 is a micropollutant, that enters the bloodstream quickly and creates clots that block the flow of blood. This can lead to several diseases and also cause premature death in lacs. But Delhi’s continued bout of toxic smog is hardly the only place the country’s air quality is suffering, and children are easily the ones that suffer the most.
According to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), over 90% of children around the world are exposed to polluted air that can cause severe health issues. Children inhale more air per unit of body weight than adults. Yet their lungs are not fully developed, and their bodies struggle to metabolise, detoxify, and expel toxic elements. Scarier still is the fact that neurotoxins in the air can harm their brains and cognitive development. This is true for women who were exposed to polluted air during their pregnancy, who are more likely to give birth to premature and low birthweight babies.
Indoor air pollution
Various studies show that air pollution inside homes causes more deaths than outdoor with close to 40% of all the diseases attributed to indoor air pollution. Even today, over 64% of Indian children live in homes where solid fuels are used for cooking and heating. These fuels are cheap and have a high PM2.5 production. Subsidising or making clean fuels, heating and lighting solutions more affordable and efficient is a good start. If clean alternatives aren’t available, ultra-low emission stoves with processed solid fuels like wood pellets are the next best option.
When it comes to urban areas, avoid smoking, or allowing others to smoke inside homes, especially around infants and small children. Ventilate kitchen areas as much as possible, install electric chimneys and keep the use of candles and air fresheners to the very minimum. Invest in a good air purifier to help remove dust and any other particulate matter indoors and make breathing easier for kids.
When it comes to the outdoors, awareness and education can go a long way to stop the burning of household and agricultural waste. Introduce composting, recycling and proper garbage and disposal wherever it is essential.
City kids face a whole new set of challenges, so ensuring they have a strong and healthy immune system is the first step. Staying updated on vaccines and boosters, having a nutritious diet and getting enough physical activity is crucial. The Government and local bodies need to work together and keep heavy traffic out of residential areas and enforce the rules for penalising vehicles that violate the law and pollute the air. Many people are not aware of how severely air pollution can affect us. That’s why educating ourselves, and our community on how to monitor air pollution levels and what the fall out can be is equally important.
On a more practical note, keep infants and young children away from areas with heavy traffic, especially trucks and buses. Pay attention to the fact that young children’s faces are almost at the height where larger vehicles exhausts can spew toxic pollutants directly onto them. Wearing masks might be a practical step for adults to combat smog air pollution; when it comes to children, they might not be the best idea. If fit incorrectly they may impede a child’s breathing.
Although the sources of air pollution can differ depending on where you live across the country, the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones is to stay updated and informed about the situation in your locality daily. This way, you can take the appropriate measures to protect yourself and if necessary, stay indoors on abysmal air quality days.
This is a partnered post.