A big burden on Delhi's chest

Kumar said that smoke from the landfill fire in summers is far more toxic than the smoke of cigarettes or even 'chulha' that still burns in some of the households

A big burden on Delhi's chest
Bhalswa Landfill

New Delhi:The often-bandied 'breath of fresh air' may seem like a joke to the people who live near Delhi's landfill sites, many of whom are seen to commonly suffer from respiratory illnesses such as asthma.

Anaemia is another common scourge that afflicts these people who live by these mountains of garbage.

Health experts say that pregnant women living around the dumping yard run a risk of congenital abnormalities (birth defects) and premature delivery, but infants and toddlers are at a still higher risk of suffering from lung infection as they consume toxic air from the very first breath of their life.

Shaira Bano, a 45-year-old scrap dealer at Bhalswa landfill site, has been risking her life just to put food on the table for more than six years .

Shaira developed severe breathing problems within a year of moving to the landfill site, and her children now suffer from skin allergies.

“I have been suffering from breathing problems for quite a long time. And since I work as a scrap dealer, I am bound to live in this area to earn my living. We understand that we have been risking our health, but there is no other option. I have four children and two of them have skin allergies already,” Shaira told PTI.

Tasneem, 32, who lives adjacent to the Ghazipur landfill site is worried for the health of her children as they fall sick often because of the toxic air and the smell that grips the area.

Talking to PTI, Tasneem said, “My children keep suffering from breathing problems, itchy eyes and skin allergies. The dumping yard catches fire every year during the summers and such health problems among children are more common then.” Giving the extent of their vulnerability, Founder of Lung care foundation and Chairman of Chest Surgery at Medanta hospital, Gurugram, Arvind Kumar said that people residing in those areas, lose at least a decade of their life inhaling the toxic air constantly.

Kumar said that smoke from the landfill fire in summers is far more toxic than the smoke of cigarettes or even 'chulha' that still burns in some of the households.

“Older people living there are at a high risk of suffering from severe attacks of asthma, anaemia, and several other problems. People in those areas lose at least a decade of their life by inhaling polluted air,” Kumar said.

He explained how pregnant women and children run a risk of developing severe health problems, besides several respiratory illnesses.

“Pregnant women who are living there are inhaling toxic air, which gets into their blood and moves via placenta to the developing foetus. It is reported to cause congenital abnormalities (birth defects) during the first trimester, growth retardation, premature delivery and intrauterine deaths,” he said.

Kumar said that the children living around the dumping yard are susceptible to contracting pneumonia and are more prone to stunting of the body and hampering of the brain’s growth.

Most of these infants after turning into adolescents are found to exhibit hyperactivity, lower IQ, premature hypertension and all kinds of cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and many of them even develop lung cancer by the time they reach their late 20s or 30s, he said.

“Those living around the landfill sites have been inhaling 10,000 litres of air containing all kinds of toxins that go into their lungs and thereafter, it gets absorbed into the blood. And then, via blood they go into all the organs in the body,” Kumar said.

Even though Jummal, 55, and Sabina, 20, both Ghazipur residents, are years apart in age, they both are chronic patients of respiratory problems, with Sabina taking treatment for over a decade, and Jummal for an even longer time.

“People here have been suffering from various illnesses and have been demanding a stop on dumping of garbage in the area. They have even requested the authorities to relocate the landfill site,” Sabina told PTI.

As per a report of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, Delhi generates around 11,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste per day. Of this, around 5,000 tonnes is processed and the rest (6,000 tonnes per day or 21.6 lakh tonnes per year) ends up in landfill sites.

On the other hand, a government data shows that less than a fifth of the legacy waste at the three landfill sites — Ghazipur, Okhla, and Bhalswa — in Delhi has been processed since the project to flatten the mountains of garbage started in October 2019, while the deadline is less than two and a half years away.

Environmentalist Bhavreen Kandhari said that waste has to be viewed as a resource, and not burden to be disposed of.

“Key to the success of waste management is immediate enforcement of waste segregation at source that is absolutely lacking as of now,” Bhavreen said.

“With this mindset the protagonists who are the key players in the solid waste management endeavour are the door-to-door waste collectors, Collection and Transportation (C&T) companies and urban local bodies,” she added.