What Is It Like To Live In The World’s Most Polluted City?

The World's Most Polluted City

Image Credit: The Hindu

Delhi. Officially the world’s most polluted city. 


A recent article from the Huffington Post reported,

“On November 27th, one of the US Embassy’s pollution-monitoring stations in New Delhi recorded a chart-breaking reading of 999 on its custom-developed Air Quality Index. To put that in perspective, any reading above 150 is considered unhealthy, with the range 351-500 classified as ‘hazardous’.”


And here I am, sitting in the comfort of my friends’ apartment just down the road from where those pollution readings were recorded from in Delhi. Even though I feel somewhat insulated by being inside, I know my mental persuasion is merely self-soothing as a survival mechanism. The reality? With each breath, I’m getting a dose of toxic fumes WORSE than that taken up by a chronic chain smoker back home.


I’m gazing out the window at a scene I can’t even believe people have to suffer through on a daily basis. What one might be deceptively convinced as overcast weather is actually a permanent cloud of pollution that lingers over the lives of the many millions who call Delhi home. The greater view out the window is shrouded by smog but I can still see a tree just on the corner covered by a mysterious grey film.


I wonder to myself…


What Is It Like To Live In The World’s Most Polluted City?


I’ve only experienced this for a few short days and yet I can feel the difference already.


My breaths are shorter.

An annoying ‘black lung’ cough has started up which I can’t seem to shake.

I’m blowing out speckles of black snot from my nose.

I don’t ever feel fully awake as the sun fails to break through the layer of smog.

I generally feel dirty.


My heart goes out to the road-side merchants with their stand of fruits and vegetables while thousands of cars whiz by, kicking up dirt and spurting out car fumes straight onto their food and into their faces. The children who run around and play on the side streets, kicking around discarded plastic bottles and breathing in the most toxic air on this planet. And the ‘holy’ cows that roam the streets in search of real food, scavenging through plastic and trash.

Cows eating plastic in India

Cows eating plastic – a common sight in India


And yet, I get to watch on as a bystander, passing through for a few short days, knowing she’ll have the fortune of returning back home to the crisp clean air of outback Australia and hoping to dear God her lungs aren’t scared for the rest of her life.


But my hope is also that I don’t return as an ignorant bystander. May the memories of blowing out black snot be etched in my memory forever. I can only hope that the current Climate Change talks in Paris will shed more light on these issues as being the true public health emergencies that they are.


In the West, we may plead innocence or a passive ignorance to these global issues. We travel through these cities on vacation so we can live like kings and queens for a few short days, buying up cheap goods and souvenirs to take home to our real palaces. Or for business, negotiating the next trade deal for cheap manufacturing so consumers and shareholders back home can feel comfort in knowing they are getting the best value.


But at what cost?


Anyone who wants to sweep them under the carpet and pretend they don’t exist, I challenge you to confront your own life with a magnifying glass. Negligence is what will see to this kind of pollution as being OUR reality.


Just because some far-off nation is experiencing pollution at record highs, does not mean that we are immune from experiencing a similar fate. We are as much to blame for these problems. We are all in this together. We are all connected. We have merely transferred the by-products of our modern lifestyles to those who are ill-equipped to deal with them, or most accurately, who are more disadvantaged to say no.


 With the outsourcing of production comes the outsourcing of waste.


I don’t just see a nation of people who are uneducated about their environmental impact. I see a nation of people who have been dumped with the burden of dealing with humanity’s consumerist addictions while struggling to determine their own destiny. They get the raw end of the deal.


Every little bit you do to mitigate your personal impact helps. Don’t get me wrong. It DOES. But I do sometimes feel that we are sheltered from the true nature of our lifestyles because we don’t have to deal with the negative consequences on a daily basis. What if our garbage wasn’t collected each week, and we had to find our own way to do away with it? What if we had to grow and manufacture everything we consume? I know it’s somewhat idle entertaining these questions, but I wonder, I do wonder, if asking them of ourselves more often might just help remind us that just because you may not live this reality, you can’t ignore our greater responsibility to those who ARE living this reality.



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Posted on by Emily Uebergang Posted in EcoLiving, EcoTravel

About Emily Uebergang

Urban hippie by day, wandering gypsy by night. Emily is all about sustainable living and writes like she's out to try and save the world or something. Follow on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Google+