A fight for fresh air on construction sites in New Delhi

Residents of New Delhi, the world’s most polluted capital, are choking. duty It shows images of Indian women fighting for a future where the air is breathable on construction sites, where the situation is even worse. The first two texts on the impact of air pollution on the poorest in India.

Loud firecrackers exploded in Gokalpuri, a small village northeast of New Delhi, the Indian capital. Here, the heart is in the party: the residents, all smiling, prepare to celebrate Diwali – a major festival in the Indian world.

But in recent years, the festivities have been accompanied by an all-too-familiar anxiety. During the period surrounding the festival, burning fireworks and firecrackers leads to dangerously high levels of air pollution. Many Indians dread this time of year, when the air becomes almost unbreathable.

But for Santosh, a 53-year-old woman from this community, dangerous levels of air pollution were a year-round reality. Like many residents of this village, she has spent her life working on construction sites, the perfect place for exposure to air pollution.

Construction workers in India’s capital, who are often women, face a double burden as they are constantly exposed to not only air pollution, but also dust and airborne particles in their workplace. The majority of them do not have access to personal protective equipment, while air pollution levels on construction sites in the capital often run counter to applicable laws.

duty He met Santosh in his small apartment, in the heart of the village on the edge of a big construction site. There is only one carpet on the floor in the main room. The pink of the walls is barely perceptible because it is dark inside, even in the middle of the morning.

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In her early twenties, Santosh turned to this profession for money. It is hard work, but he usually earns between 300 and 400 Indian rupees per day (between 5 and 7 Canadian dollars). Among the jobs that do not require a qualification, this is one of the highest paying jobs.

I never want my kids to work in construction

I left construction in 2017, after 32 years of hard work. His days on construction sites, which mainly consisted of hauling materials, leave him with painful memories. I had a constant cough when I was working on construction sites. My eyes were burning and running the whole time,” she testifies in Hindi.

Do things differently

These symptoms are common among construction workers in the Indian capital. According to the organization Help Delhi breatheStruggling to mobilize residents in the face of an air pollution crisis, construction workers suffer from stress, depression, memory loss, and illnesses such as silicosis and a lung disorder.

The problem: They often don’t realize the connections between their symptoms and air quality. Santosh was also unaware of the effect the air had on her health. Even then, she took her children on several occasions to construction sites when they were younger, not suspecting the dangers.

Thus, few workers demand changes at construction sites. According to Help Delhi Breathe’s study of female construction workers, air pollution was not among their main concerns. Nor did they understand technical concepts such as microparticles.

Therefore, the organization launched a large-scale awareness campaign targeting female construction workers. Almost a year ago, Pooja Prewa, a young student from the local community who was chosen because she is one of the few educated people in her village, meets these workers. It raises their awareness of air pollution issues and teaches them to use and interpret the measurements of the AQI monitors themselves.

This initiative has been implemented in two other communities, where today more than sixty women have been trained to use and read these screens.

Not only do we need to bring them together to discuss the issues, but also to help them understand the effects of air pollution on their health and the health of their families. Many of their children suffer from respiratory problems. “They are suffering a lot,” Pooja told The Guardian. Must.

Ask about accounts

Santosh gets a lump in her throat when she thinks of her children. Now adults, they have been able to break into other territories, much to his relief. “I never want my kids to work in construction. I never want them to work in all that pollution and heat. I did it so they wouldn’t have to go through all that.”

She remembers a day when she had to take them to work and wanted to protect them from air pollution. “The director turned off the fan in the room he was sleeping in, claiming it was wasting electricity,” she said. She said everything is “too much to ask” for site moderators, such as getting protective gear.

Today, Santosh is finally able to put words to the hurt she has felt all these years, thanks to Pooja’s initiative. Like her, many workers are now more aware of the risks associated with air pollution on construction sites — so much so that changes are already happening on the ground, Pooja notes.

“Society in general has become so much more aware of the problem of air quality that female workers have begun to hold managers accountable,” the young student said.

“At the beginning of the campaign, when I went to construction sites without being watched, no one took me seriously. But when we go there with the device and show them the measurements “in red”, they start listening to us [et prennent des mesures] To better protect us,” says Pooja.

And of course times change. In 2021, the capital, in particular, imposed measures that must be followed on construction sites in order to reduce pollution, such as the deployment of anti-smog guns that spray water to reduce dust, compulsory covering of vehicles transporting materials, and the prohibition of leaving construction waste. On the road side.

Pooja says she is pleased: “It is a big step to protect the workers.”

This report was funded by the support of International Press Fund Transatduty.

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