News ID: 261645
Published: 1203 GMT November 16, 2019

Delhi suffocates under toxic smog but millions go without masks

Delhi suffocates under toxic smog but millions go without masks
AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

A thick grey smog choked New Delhi for the fifth day Saturday, adding to a mounting pollution health crisis, but retired naval commander Anil Charan is one of the vast majority of the city's 20 million inhabitants who do not wear a mask.

Indian media is packed with warnings about the risk of premature death, lung cancer and particular danger to children from PM2.5 — tiny particles that get into the bloodstream and vital organs — carried in the smog, AFP reported.

But the smartly-dressed Charan was among shoppers in Delhi's upmarket Khan Market district browsing the luxury clothes and jewelry stores without a mask, seemingly oblivious to the risk.

Many are too poor to afford protection but others simply do not like the way a pollution mask looks.

Charan, wearing aviator sunglasses, said it did not fit his "rough and tough" image.

"I have been brought up in this kind of atmosphere, the smog and all, so I am kind of used to it." he said.

Doctors say face masks must be worn and air purifiers used at home and in offices.

There are a variety of masks to choose from. A basic cloth version can cost as little as 50 rupees (70 US cents) but the protection they offer is debatable.

More reputable types start from 2,500 rupees ($34) while some Khan Market stores charge more than 5,500 rupees ($75) for top of the range imported models.

The mask-look worried a lot of the Khan Market shoppers and diners however. Some said the danger had been overblown.

"I know I am risking my health but I am not very comfortable wearing them (masks)," said Ritancia Cardoz, who works for a private company.

"I don't find it appealing," she told AFP.

Lopa Diwan, on a visit to the capital, said the Delhi air was "not as bad as it is being made out to be."

"So many people advised me not to go to Delhi because of the pollution but I don't think it's that bad. I don't see people dying," she said.

Pollution — blamed on industrial and car emissions mixed with stubble fires on thousands of farms surrounding the city — has been building up each winter for the past decade. The past five years have been particularly bad.

The toxic air cuts short the lives of one million people in India every year, according to government research published earlier this year.

   
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