In my opinion, the biggest contributor is actually the overpopulated streets of Delhi by vehicles. The number of cars is so high. Sometimes I have to cover my face when I’m pushing my cart and a vehicle accelerates in front of me, when it’s changing gear or something. They suddenly let out a huge cloud of black smoke and it surrounds me and my cart… One day I can specifically remember. It was the 19 August and I was sceptical of taking my ice cream cart out for business because there was so much pollution in the air… But I did go out, only because I really need the money from my job.
Sanjay Kumar is seventeen and studying in Delhi, where he has lived for two years. To get the money he needs to pay for his studies, he works until late every night – often until one in the morning – as an ice cream wallah.
We’ve got a very busy high street in Tooting, with a hell of a lot of buses, because Tooting Broadway has got an extreme amount of buses at the bus stands. We’ve also got the Hospital, St George’s, so we’ve got ambulances flying around on emergency blues. It’s obviously a very busy road. It connects south London, so [we have] a lot of traffic coming through as well. It does worry me…
Denny is a special constable working in south London on a busy high street. He comes from Newcastle originally and has had asthma all his life.
I start my work at 5am because I like the air at that time; it’s cooler and not so dusty. By the afternoon or evening, it suffocates me. You can’t breathe because the air is so thick with dust. I have an allergy that makes a lot of my work very difficult. I get an allergic reaction to any kind of work that involves mixing concrete or shovelling dirt, so it becomes hard for me to breathe and I start coughing a lot.
Ram Karan Malhotra is a manual labourer who has lived in Delhi for four decades. He works outside and finds the air suffocating by the afternoon, thick with dust and difficult to breathe. It makes him cough and brings on other allergies.
I got a rash on my back and my neck when I moved to Delhi and with this new knowledge I believe it may have been caused by the air pollution. I had to buy medicines that cost 2,000 rupees (£25 approx) which is a lot of money for me.
I live in Wandsworth and I believe, from what the Mayor says we’ve got the two most polluted areas in London – if not Britain – which is Putney High Street and somewhere else, I can’t remember where it is. We’re a very lucky borough, we’ve got a lot of green spaces but things like Clapham Common, Wandsworth Common, Tooting Bec Common – they’re all by busy roads.
I cough furiously. It happens at work very often as I am working in a dusty environment, and sometimes work next to large traffic jams, all day. I even have the problem at home; sometimes I cough a lot when my wife is cooking some spicy food! I feel completely suffocated and claustrophobic.
With a poorly chest you can tell [the air quality is bad]. You do become a bit tighter and I suppose people who don’t have a respiratory problem wouldn’t notice it was particularly bad that day. But when, for 40 odd years, I’ve dealt with my own medical issues you know when you’re more susceptible or when your breathing is slightly more laboured.
At work, I don’t have the time or the energy to think about [how it might be better]. I’m not educated enough to even start thinking about a problem like that. I’m poor and my main concern is to earn money to survive and feed myself and family. I can’t make a change in such a big place. I realise it’s problematic for me but, each year, I work to survive and to take a break when I return to my village and take a break and regain my strength. That’s all I can do.
[People need to change] by being more environment conscious. For example, when people eat packaged food, they just throw the trash on the street. Of course, that’s not going into your lungs but it’s the mentality. People are really less environment conscious and they’re just throwing trash everywhere and it gets incredibly smelly. That same attitude reflects in the way they live, like driving when it’s not really necessary. If people don’t change, we will never have a clean Delhi.
I’m asthmatic myself so I understand what it is with breathing and everything else. I think if we went for a healthier nation, it wouldn’t [spend so much] on other things. And I think when people are slightly ill, people are a little more grouchy. If people do have a healthier life, it can [get rid of] particularly a lot of the angst that they carry. There’s a hell of a lot of money spent on mental health. I’m not going to go into a political speech, but things are so underfunded … even the ambulance service is just being taken up by mental health issues. I don’t think the answer but asylums and many hospitals and stuff like that, [but] there’s not a lot of space for people to go to, and it’s very much care in the community – but some of these people need more help. And there could be more money for that, there could be safe spaces for them to work through their problems and be helped for that rather than the issues we’re having at the moment…