Expats in Delhi leave town to escape smog

Dust billows as a worker grinds the concrete divider of an under-construction flyover as vehicle drive through a smog covered New Delhi on Nov 20, 2017. PHOTO: AFP
Dust billows as a worker grinds the concrete divider of an under-construction flyover as vehicle drive through a smog covered New Delhi on Nov 20, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - Singaporean Raveen Misra and his family left Delhi for Mumbai 10 days ago when the air quality in the city worsened to a severe level. Although pollution during winter is an annual problem, the situation this year is "quite bad", said Mr Misra, 38.

"We bought more air purifiers for the home, got all our helpers to put on masks. Shut and taped down all windows and balcony doors," said the full-time parent, who relocated to Delhi because of his wife's job posting. They have stayed there with their 14-month-old daughter for four years. "Going for walks or runs is just out of the question. Our daughter can't even play in the garden."

The situation has improved since the family left Delhi, but the air quality remains in the unhealthy category.

Mrs Mary Roy, a 50-year-old Singaporean housewife who has been living in Delhi since 2008, returned to Singapore from Nov 10 to 13. "It was very bad. We did not send our child to school because of the pollution. She was coughing away.

"I went out without a mask and I was coughing," said Mrs Roy, who suffers from sinus.

The thick grey smog is the result of a combination of factors, including burning of paddy crop at the end of harvest in the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab, vehicle and industrial pollution, and adverse weather conditions.

The pollution saw PM 2.5 levels going nearly 12 times over permissible limits. PM 2.5 level is a measure of fine particle matter linked to higher rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease.

The authorities imposed emergency measures, from shutting down primary schools for a week to stopping all construction activity.

The diplomatic corps in Delhi even took up the issue of pollution with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Mr Frank Hans Dannenberg Castellanos, dean of the diplomatic corps of around 150 embassies and high commissions, met MEA officials last Friday.

 

Mr Castellanos, who is also the Dominican Republic's Ambassador to India, said he was asked by the diplomatic community to share their concerns on how the pollution "is affecting the inflow of tourism from some of our countries and the daily operations of some of the missions".

 

Costa Rican Ambassador Mariela Alvarez wrote in a blog post recently that she had moved to Bengaluru because the air in Delhi was "unbreathable". The envoy, who does not smoke, said "it is not funny to see your lungs expelling a dark residue" as if one were a smoker.

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India conducted a survey involving 350 tour operators. It said Delhi is "bound to drop off from the map of international tourists who will pick 'cleaner' destinations". Even domestic tourists are said to be avoiding Delhi, which has long been among the world's most polluted cities.

Around eight million tourists visit India every year. But there are some people who feel that pollution is not a problem specific to Delhi or India. Mr Subhash Goyal, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, said: "There is no denying that this is a serious issue and it needs to be resolved. It is not unresolvable... This happens all over the world. The mask I am using, I bought it in Singapore during the haze."