A survey released last year by the World Health Organisation found that Delhi was the most polluted city in the world – with an annual average of 153 micrograms of the most dangerous small particulates, known as PM2.5s, per cubic metre.
There are now fears that millions of children in India will suffer serious health problems later in life.
‘If you look at lung function in children [here], there is significant decline with constant exposure. This will probably be irreversible. For adults there is also a more rapid decline than usual with age. Some suggest it is the equivalent of smoking around 10 cigarettes per day. There is also a higher chance of developing coronary and arterial disease’ says Dr Guleria – a lung specialist at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
The WHO found that India has the world’s highest rate of death from respiratory disease – with 159 per 100,000 in 2012 – about 10 times that of Italy – five times that of the UK and twice that of China. One study found that half of Delhi’s 4.4 million schoolchildren would never recover full lung capacity.
Much depends on levels of exposure – which means that children – who in India often cycle or walk to school along busy roads – receive extremely high doses of toxic chemicals and damaging particulates. Daily levels in schools are four times worse than those that are supposed to trigger alerts in London.