• September 29, 2020 1:06 am

Reporting From Delhi

How embassies tackle pollution

ByAnusuya Som

Nov 15, 2019

From installing air purifiers and special devices to issuing masks, diplomatic missions are taking a series of steps to help their employees handle the pollution

It’s that time of the year again when Delhi is shrouded in a thick haze of poisonous air. While most citizens seem resigned to living and working in such hazardous conditions – because they are helpless or lack awareness – how are foreign diplomats from places with cleaner air coping?

In Nehru Park, near which embassies of several major countries are located, a staffer at a prominent foreign mission was out for a jog. “Yes, we have installed air purifiers in the embassy,” he said, asking not to be named because he wasn’t authorised to speak to the press. “I wear a mask most of the time but when I am jogging it gets uncomfortable.”

Newslaundry also contacted some foreign embassies to find out how they were dealing with the toxic air.

Ashwamegh Banerjee, a spokesperson for the British high commission, said they have taken several measures to help their employees handle the pollution. They include installing devices on the building’s generators to capture carbon particles and convert them into black paint. The employees are offered flexible working hours and allowed to work remotely when the air quality hits “certain limits”. They are also encouraged to stay indoors during peak hours of pollution.

“We have air purifiers installed across the compound and we offer free disposable pollution masks to all staff,” he said. “During peak season, we also avoid organising outdoor events if possible. The wellbeing of our staff is of utmost concern and we regularly review the effectiveness of our measures to reduce exposure to air pollution.”

Other “green measures” include the installation of nearly 100 solar panels and 18 rainwater harvesting pits at the mission. The high commission also segregates waste which, the spokesperson said, “helps us contribute to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledge to abolish single-use plastic in India by 2022”.

The American embassy told Newslaundry in a statement that India and the US have “cooperated positively” ever since the mission’s air quality monitoring data became publicly available in 2015.

“The US embassy has worked with the Indian government and civil society partners on expanding air quality monitoring and developing research and mitigation initiatives,” the statement said. “For example, on November 4, 2019, the US Trade and Development Agency signed a grant with The Virgo Group, an engineering and services firm, to pilot Rapid Thermal Processing technology from US company Envergent Technologies that will convert agricultural waste to bio-crude in Punjab, India, reducing air pollution and creating new fuel sources.”

Ariel H Pollock, a spokesperson for the embassy, told Newslaundry the embassy is doing everything possible to “mitigate the effects of air pollution on our staff and community”. Masks are provided to staff members, particularly those whose jobs require them to spend time outside.

In tackling the problem of air pollution, Pollock suggested Delhi look at the “constructive steps” that America’s three most polluted cities — Chicago, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh — have taken to reduce pollution. According to an article she shared with Newslaundry, such steps include promoting the use of electric vehicles and renewable energy. It also explains how green policies helped California – where Los Angeles is – contain the rise in carbon emissions to “just 4 per cent” between 1990 and 2010.

Are American diplomats reluctant to accept postings in Delhi due to the pollution? “The US mission in India is very concerned about air pollution levels in New Delhi which affect the health of our staff and their families as well as our ability to recruit personnel to serve in India,” Pollock said. However, she added, none of the embassy’s employees has sought a transfer or asked to temporarily moved out of the city.

Pollock lives in Delhi with her family and schoolgoing children. They have installed air purifiers at home and her children wear masks when they go out, as does she.

At the Bhutanese embassy, Kinley Namgay, third secretary of the Press and Political Section, said, “The present air pollution is a concern for all of us. We have supplied air purifiers in all residences and offices of the members of staff and we are encouraging them to wear masks when they go outdoors.”

Khawaja Maaz, a spokesperson for Pakistan’s high commission, said they installed air purifiers across their offices. Maaz, who lives in Delhi with his wife and children, said he ensures his children wear masks when they go outside. He has stopped taking them to the park to play, he added.

He suggested that Indian authorities “stop crop burning”. When asked if employees are asking to be transferred out of Delhi, he replied in the negative. He added that none of the high commission’s employees suffers from pulmonary or respiratory disorders.