Toiling in Delhi’s toxic smog

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NEW DELHI, Jan 31, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Delhi is the world’s most polluted
major city, its toxic cocktail of vehicle fumes, dust and smoke choking the
chaotic metropolis and taking years off its 20 million inhabitants’ lives.

But despite this, with levels of airborne pollutants routinely eclipsing
safe limits in winter months, people in the Indian capital still have to go
about their daily lives.

AFP spoke to four Delhi residents doing just that.

– The choking boatman –

Between October and March, people in Delhi flock to the Yamuna rivers, one
of the world’s most noxious waterways, to feed migrating seagulls, believing
it brings good karma.

Rowing them in his red wooden boat as the sun struggles to break through
the haze to shimmer on the cold brown water is 24-year-old Ganesh Pandit.

“There is too much pollution here because of which there is smog. Phlegm
gets stuck in the throat and it makes breathing tough,” says Pandit, tossing
out bits of bread to the squawking birds.

He adds: “When we take medicines, we feel better. When we stop taking the
medicines, then problems start again. I always wake up with a headache. I
have trouble rowing the boat.”

– The athlete –

The Lodhi Gardens park, dotted with the atmospheric tombs of Islamic rulers
of centuries past, is an oasis of calm and green, attracting Delhiites in
their droves for sport or leisure.

Hopping over yellow training cones and shin-high green metal frames and
scampering side-to-side in her pink trainers, is high school student Anaya
Goel, a national-level badminton player.

“The pollution in Delhi has very adverse effects on my training and I don’t
feel like coming out and training,” the 17-year-old explains.

“After my training finishes, I feel a lot of nausea, headache and fatigue
because of the pollution levels,” she adds.

– Sweeping the streets –

Delhi’s Red Fort was constructed in the 17th century by a Mughal emperor
and housing pavilions and ornamental gardens behind its imposing sandstone
walls.

Outside toils Lajwanti, scooping up the city’s detritus into a rudimentary
wheelbarrow as the traffic roars past, her only protection from the pollution
is a thin crimson scarf to cover her nose and mouth.

“I come at 6:30 in the morning. My eyes burn, I cough often,” the
government employee reveals.

– Pedalling in the pollution –

Doctors warn against strenuous exercise — which requires deeper breathing
— when the pollution spikes. But cycle rickshaw driver Munir Mohammad has no
choice: He has to work.

“I get ill with fever, cold and cough. The medicine I take doesn’t really
help,” he says as he navigates Delhi’s roads on a three-wheeled vehicle with
an antiquated heavy metal frame.

“I go to my village to get better and that is where I feel healthy. Here
there is pollution with cars, diesel vehicles — this is why we fall ill,” he
muses.

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