New Delhi breathless as people take to streets to demand clean air

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Buildings are seen shrouded in smog in New Delhi, India, October 30, 2019. (Reuters)
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Congress party volunteers hold placards as they march against the alarming levels of pollution in the city, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP)
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Congress party volunteers hold placards as they march against the alarming levels of pollution in the city, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP)
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Congress party volunteers hold placards as they march against the alarming levels of pollution in the city, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP)
Updated 06 November 2019

New Delhi breathless as people take to streets to demand clean air

  • India’s national capital and its adjoining areas have been under a blanket of toxic smog for almost two weeks
  • On Tuesday, hundreds of people protested in Delhi against the escalating pollution

NEW DELHI: It is more than 15 days since Sunieta Ojha’s two children and husband began complaining of a persistent cough and congestion in the heart.
They have stopped going out and bought three air purifiers to protect themselves from the air pollution that has engulfed New Delhi and the National Capital Territory (NCR).
A lawyer by profession, Ojha has been facing the tough task of taking care of three sick people while ensuring her professional life remains unaffected.
“My kids, who are 10 and 5 years old, keep on coughing and feel uncomfortable the whole day. They cannot step out and play. Life has become very suffocating for us,” Ojha said.
“The NCR has turned into a gas chamber where people have no other option but to suffer,” she told Arab News.
India’s national capital and its adjoining areas have been under a blanket of toxic smog for almost two weeks. The Air Quality Index (AQI) has exceeded the 500 mark regularly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the AQI should not exceed more than 60. This year has been the worst for the past three years.
The air quality in Delhi improved on Wednesday. However, it still remains in a hazardous zone.
On Tuesday, hundreds of people protested in Delhi against the escalating pollution and asked the government to intervene to address the issue.
“I have never bothered about pollution in life. I have been busy in my professional life. But that was a mistake. I realize that something needs to be done to address the issue of air pollution because it affects everyone’s life and I tried mobilizing people through my social media posts,” said Shuchir Suri, one of the main organizers behind mobilizing citizens on the issue of pollution.
“It is a movement for clean air. This is happening globally, and this should happen in India also. Clean India starts with clean air. People want a change now in the way we look at environmental pollution,” Suri said.
Last week the Delhi government declared a public health emergency and ordered the shutting of schools until Nov. 6. It distributed four million masks in schools.
It has also introduced a car-rationing system in Delhi for ten days from Nov. 3-14, in which cars with odd and even number plates would use the roads on alternate days.
The Supreme Court on Monday pulled up central and the local government for not doing enough to address the issue of pollution. It ordered the cessation of all construction and demolition activities in Delhi. It also asked the neighboring states of Panjab and Haryana to stop the burning of farm stubbles, which environmentalists believe is one of the major causes of the toxic smog at the onset of winter in Delhi.
Dr. Loveleen Mangla, of Metro Hospital and Cancer Institute, said: “Bad air can damage your lungs, it causes bronchitis. If the air quality is bad then particulate matter or PM 2.5 can enter the heart through the lungs and also cause heart attacks.”
He said that in the past month there had been an huge increase in the number of patients visiting him with respiratory problems.
“In the prevailing situation, it would be difficult for patients to get back to normal life. The medication can subside the problem for the time being but it cannot cure,” Mangla told Arab News.
“Air purifiers and masks do not really address the issue. These are short-term measures. They are more for the psychological satisfaction of the people. Patients cannot remain confined to home all the time,” he said.
Environmentalist Vimlendu Jha, who runs an NGO called Swechha that advocates a clean environment, said: “It’s the collective failure of the central and the state government and all the wings of the executive that a problem which affects the lives of so many people remains neglected year after year.”
“The public health emergency that India has needs to be looked at from the 360-degree angle, not just 60 degrees. It cannot be looked at as a November-December issue; the air quality has to be addressed keeping in mind the whole year,” Jha told Arab News.
“I am disappointed that so many years have passed and still the problem is lingering. There is no way out but to find out a solution.”
He said that Delhi and the NCR have 10 million vehicles and the Delhi master plan says that almost 80 percent of the people should be using public transport, but this is not the case. “Right now, only one fourth of the total population of 40 million is using public transport. So the region needs robust public transport and facilities to address last-mile connectivity.”


Philippines to charter flight to bring home citizens from Lebanon

Updated 08 August 2020

Philippines to charter flight to bring home citizens from Lebanon

  • Remains of four who died in Tuesday’s massive blast in Beirut also to be repatriated

MANILA: The Philippines will soon be sending a chartered flight to Lebanon to bring back Filipinos impacted by a massive explosion at the port of Beirut as early as next week, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Saturday.

“The DFA is paying P15,000,000 ($305,643) from its funds for a chartered Qatar Air flight to repatriate from Beirut. The Philippine Embassy in Beirut is negotiating it and disbursing the amount. Aug. 16 is [the date set for] arrival,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said, adding that the flight will also bring home the remains of four Filipinos who died in Tuesday’s blast.

Around 400 Filipinos from Lebanon are expected to return following the catastrophic explosion, which decimated the Lebanese capital.

On Friday, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Sarah Lou Arriola said that President Rodrigo Duterte was responding to the “clamor of Filipinos in Lebanon” and that the “chartered flight is the most concrete, immediate and timely assistance” that the DFA could provide given the current situation there.

Reports state that the deadly explosion was caused by a cargo of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, stored at a warehouse in the port of Beirut for years. 

The odorless chemical is commonly used as an agricultural fertilizer but is also used to make powerful bombs.

“With ground operations clearing more area and embassy personnel receiving additional reports, the department is taking in new inputs with regard to the status of the Filipino community in the country,” the DFA said in a statement. 

Data released by the DFA placed the number of Filipinos impacted at 48, with 42 wounded, four dead, and two missing.

“By day’s end yesterday, the number of injured oversees Filipino workers stands at 42, an increase of 11 from the previous report,” Arriola said.

Two of the wounded remained in critical condition and were being monitored at the Rizk Hospital.

“We were also alerted that another Filipino was reported missing, increasing the number to two. The number of Filipino fatalities, meanwhile, remains at four,” she added.

The DFA said that, earlier, it had expected the number of affected Filipinos to increase considering the magnitude of the Beirut destruction.

Even before the onset of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the DFA had begun its repatriation activities from Lebanon to limit the worsening condition of Filipinos in the country due to economic woes. It has repatriated at least 1,508 Filipinos from Lebanon since December 2019.