New Delhi: As Delhi’s air quality shows no signs of improving, the Delhi government will begin distributing air pollution masks to the city’s homeless – a population which is at most risk from the damage that the poor air does to the human body.
The Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), as part of a pilot project, will begin distributing air pollution masks from next week to those who are especially vulnerable or are already suffering from respiratory conditions.
Bipin Rai, member DUSIB said, “Initially we will be looking to distribute air pollution masks to those with pre-existing conditions like tuberculosis or respiratory diseases who are more vulnerable. Later we will expand.” Rai added that DUSIB had written to the government’s health department to provide the masks.
Last year, the Lancet medical journal found that out of the six deaths worldwide, one was due to pollution. Besides, the diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths, which is three times more than death caused by tuberculosis and malaria combined.
According to the report, India had the dubious distinction of having the most pollution-related deaths in the world with 2.5 million people dying early due to pollution, which accounts for a total of 28 per cent of global deaths.
The report had underlined another key factor, that is, in the most severely affected countries, “pollution-related disease is responsible for more than one death in four.” In 2015, in India, 92 per cent of pollution-related deaths occurred in the middle or low-income groups.
A senior official of the Delhi government said, “This is something that we have been aware of. The Delhi government provides medical aid to the homeless and in the winters and when pollution spikes, we have come across a pattern of symptoms that confirm that there is a massive health impact due to air pollution.”
The symptoms breathlessness, respiratory distress, headaches, stinging eyes, coughing and in more serious cases damaged lungs – all tally with what the latest research
equates with long-term exposure to poor air.
Explaining the extent of the problem, Ramakant Yadav, a homeless man who works at a traffic signal during the day and sleeps at a night shelter in Yamuna Pushta, said, “We inhale fumes all day, summer or winter. But during the colder months, it gets especially bad and most of us fall sick and as a result can’t work. Those days, we end up losing entire days of work and can go hungry as a result.”
Rai added, “We are hoping to provide these masks as the first part. We will also be providing health care facilities geared towards ensuring that the impact of poor air is mitigated to the largest extent possible.”
The exact number of homeless people in the capital is disputed and inevitably politicised. The Housing and Land Rights Network, an Indian NGO, estimates the population is between 150,000 and 200,000 people, but the government estimates it to be around 50,000.