From masks to putting off events, how embassies are coping with Delhi air

FILE PHOTO: People seen wearing pollution masks in New Delhi

Concerned over the rising pollution level in the national capital, many foreign missions have taken several measures, including installation of air purifiers at embassy premises and provision of protective masks, to mitigate its impact on the health of their diplomats and staffers, officials said.

While the Embassy of Switzerland is on its own "monitoring the air quality" inside and outside the embassy building within its premises, the Afghan Embassy has "put on hold all outdoor events and activities".

Pollution levels in Delhi peaked to a three-year high on Sunday and situation was no better in posh Chanakyapuri -- the diplomatic enclave -- home to a large number of embassies of foreign countries, including the US, the UK, Germany, France, Russia, China, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands, and Afghanistan.

"The US Mission in India is very concerned by 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, a US Embassy spokesperson said, when contacted.

We are doing everything we can to mitigate the effects of air pollution on our staff and community, including taking steps to ensure the cleanest possible air at our offices and residences as well as official vehicles, the spokesperson told PTI.

The embassy spokesperson said N95 masks are being provided for the staffers, particularly those required to spend time outside.

"We also work closely with the American Embassy School to ensure clean air for students. The US Embassy continues to work with the Indian government and civil society partners on expanding air quality monitoring, and developing research and mitigation initiatives, the official said.

Press Secretary at the Afghan Embassy Abdulhaq Azad said it is known that pollution in Delhi is bad ever year this time round. But, it feels extremely terrible this year.

Several of our staff have complained of burning sensation in the eye or skin irritation, so we asking them to wear mask, especially when venturing out. Besides, all outdoor activities and events have been put on hold in view of the rising pollution, he told PTI.

Besides, air purifiers are already in place in the embassy premises, he added.

Azad said the Embassy is also contemplating issuing an advisory to Afghan nationals visiting India.

India is a medical tourism destination for many Afghans. And, if sick people come from Afghanistan to India, seeking treatment, the bad air might even make situation worse for them, he said.

"So, we are monitoring the situation for the next few days, and then accordingly we will decide if we need to issue advisory cautioning our citizens planning to visit the national capital and neighbouring cities," Azad said.

The senior Afghan diplomat, who was posted here five years ago, said three flights arrive from Kabul to Delhi every day, bringing in Afghans.

"Children of embassy staff go to Indian schools here. So, as of now the schools are shut as per the government advisory. We will see how the situation is and then decide if we wish to continue sending them to school given the pollution situation right now," he said, when asked if any internal advisory has been issued.

With air quality worsening in the last few days, Swiss Embassy here has taken steps to lessen the impact of pollution on its diplomats and other staff.

In view of the rising pollution in Delhi, we have taken a few measures, like installation of air purifiers at our embassy and also at residences of our staff. Air masks for every employee have also been arranged, Vice Consul at the Swiss Embassy Alan Chiesa told PTI.

Chiesa, who arrived in Delhi in mid-2016, said it is now known that the pollution level here is bad at this time, so, as part of the calendar of events, no outdoor activities are programmed in general during this time.

French Embassy spokesperson Remy Tirouttouvarayane said the Embassy of France has taken several measures since2016 to ensure that its premises are equipped with air purifiers.

The situation shows also that the partnership for the planet, between India and France is accurate. Our minister for environment was in Delhi last week for the ISA (International Solar Alliance) general assembly and has met (India's environment minister) Prakash Javadekar to discuss the way to enhance our cooperation in the fields of environment and mitigation of climate change, he said.

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