I was all packed and excited about flying out early morning to receive a award for my film when, in the darkness of my bedroom I heard a strange cough. Switching on the lights, I saw my year old daughter awake and clearly in discomfort. Her cough sounded strange too, like a little bark.
We called our pediatrician and he immediately said that if it sounded like a bark, we should go with her to the emergency.
At the hospital, my husband and I were shocked to see a full emergency room. Little children all below 10 on beds, our daughter joined them. Her breathing had to be monitored.
Needless to say I cancelled my flight and stayed by her side for the next 2 days (we brought her home the next morning).
The papers reported that most emergency rooms were full as at that time there was a cloud of spm hanging over Bangalore.
This happened again the following year.
Now 13 years later, we see that the problem has only become worse. Governments come and go, all with one thing in common: disdain for the environment, for our children's health and for our right to breathe clean air.
There was a crack in the window in the nursery. My new neighbor’s chimney was right next to the nursery window. The nursery door was closed. Winter had only started. And then one evening, the living room filled up in dense smoke. It all came in through my baby’s window. When we realized that the smoke was coming from his room, we rushed in and took him out of his crib. We immediately went to the neighbor’s house, and he said “oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that each winter when I use my wood stove for the first time, the smoke is really bad in the first few times.”
Since then we have come to know how dangerous wood smoke is. There are seven wood stoves in a 100 meter radius around my house. None of the owners cares to hear about the dangers, or about how much the entire street suffers because of them.
My entire family was never this sick, as we were during the winter we had lived in our new house. Repeating respiratory infections, all through the winter. Endless caughs. Me and my husband are healthy people, but that winter we were sick like never before.
Since I learned that the cleanest eco wood stove emits as many PM2.5 particles as six diesel trucks - and none of my neighbors’ stoves meet these standards, I have been worried sick about my children’s health. No child should live like this.
I live in a central part of a big city. Somehow this is legal.
We decided to leave our house during the winter. We own our house, and can’t really afford to rent another one during the six weeks in winter, but we can’t let our kids breathe this filthy air.
PS- I live in one of the warmest, most densely populated counties in the OECD.
Ruth from United Kingdom
I grew up on a red route in London. I had terrible childhood asthma. Even in my 40s now I still have reduced lung function and a propensity to asthma attacks. I'm bringing my son up by a main road too. I really worry about it. Everyone deserves safe air to breathe. We don't have a car and don't fly. We need more investment in public transport so that everyone can make these choices.
David Pedersen from Canada
Air pollution has long been a concern for me, but it was only last year (2020) that I really realized just HOW bad it is.
When I read heartbreaking stories of people who can't go outside - even into their own yards - because the exhaust from nearby roads and/or the smoke from neighbouring chimneys is preventing them from doing so (at least without damaging their health), it spurs me to act.
I was fortunate to meet several wonderful communities of dedicated activists fighting for clean air on all fronts, and thanks to them I have learned just how truly critical it is that the air in our communities remains clean, fresh, and breathable. Indeed, we cannot afford to postpone clean air solely for ideological or economic purposes, as doing so is an obvious fallacy that carries deadly consequences.
As the guardian of several young children and an older family member living with advanced COPD, I want to know that our leaders - the ones we rely on to protect us from harm - are willing to put partisan politics and ideologies aside to ensure that no one anywhere in the world is forced to breathe dirty air (at least involuntarily). There are multiple ways to get there, and all must be objectively evaluated and compared.
I would also like to see a special focus on phasing out the burning of solid fuels where alternatives exist, especially having grown up with a father who has - well, HAD (until recently) - a passion for burning wood during the colder months (when the house would fill with smoke and nosebleeds would be common).
Thank you for the opportunity to testify.
Parent from India
As a parent , it pained me a great deal when every year at certain times of the year my child developed a hacking cough and had to be put in a nebulizer with steroids. I couldn’t understand what he was allergic too till about 8-9 years ago, when we were going for holiday; the moment we got out of the Delhi-NCR region , my son stopped coughing & he was perfectly fine during our stay away from here. The coughing came back within an hour of returning to Delhi.
This is when I became aware of the reality of Air pollution & its harms.
As a parent , we seek to give healthy food & environment to our children . But I feel so helpless that I can’t control the toxins my child is breathing. For no fault of his, he is taking in poison with each breath .
Each year we face the same issues and no long term solution is being implemented by our decision makers. The health of our children is of utmost importance to all parents. I sincerely wish to see our air quality improve so that all children have a safe environment to grow & play .
Parent from United Kingdom
I live in London close to the South Circular which is a single lane A road. Since the implementation of LTNs, the health of myself and my children has been significantly impacted.
A year ago, the local authority created low traffic neighbourhoods which pushed traffic from 2 residential areas on to my road. There are 4 schools, a youth centre and a care home on this road alone. The air quality which was poor to begin with has dramatically worsened and the council provides no baseline data or meaningful monitoring to assess the impact. I can no longer work at home due to excess noise which is not constant throughout the day and night (5am-10/11pm), I cannot open windows to allow air through my home and myself and my children have poor quality sleep, all of which impacts our family quality of life. Local councillors are not interested because they now live within these quiet enclaves and mums for lungs are disappointingly similar. There is a chronic lack of empathy towards those who now suffer worsening health as a result of these schemes which are supposed to deliver clean air and less traffic - it does neither of these things. They discriminate against the less well off, the most vulnerable and are creating a respiratory health crisis. I have gone from a relatively healthy person to someone who is having to have hospital appointments to ascertain why I struggle to breathe. Where I was active and would walk locally to visit family and friends, I will now drive as I have to walk through roads which are now eerily quiet and I dear for my safety, having been followed and taunted with ' no one will hear or see you'. It impacts on how often I visit my elderly parents and it adds to the isolation of the elderly as well as the additional traffic on their road. It's soul destroying. I fear for my children's health as a result and moving away is my only option. Thanks to these LTNs, the value of my home has been impacted which makes moving and staying close to family impossible. I'm stressed, angry and depressed that clean air is becoming something only the better off can have.
Divya Setia from India
"It's not him, it's the entire city"
This was the moment the penny dropped for us. Back in 2015, both me & my 3 year old child were suffering from repeated bouts of cough and cold. For the life of me, I couldn't fathom why this was happening. When I asked my pediatrician why my child was falling sick so often his response saying it was the entire city, sent me into research mode. Finally something I had read about it primary school science as a future menace became very real to me! Air Pollution was killing my child and every person we love! The fact that as a well educated aware person who knew what was happening around the world, I had missed the fact that the air pollution had exacerbated in our city to this extent had caught me by surprise.
As a young mother, my heart would break at the sight of my 6 month old on nebuliser. I would fight back tears and wonder why this was happening to us. Over the years I see the story repeat infront of my eyes for so many young families. Most being unaware that the child is suffering due to allergic rhinitis/brinchitis/childhood asthama caused by the toxic air they breathe and just putting it down to weather or poor immunity. Our governments for years let us stay in the dark about how the air we breathe is a slow poison. But enough is enough!
Families like us who are aware, run away from the city every Diwali when pollution peaks and we know that noxious gases get added to an already terrible mix. Each year we miss out on the biggest religious festival for us, our child misses celebrating with his extended family. We spend a significant proportion of our income on air purifiers, filters, masks and air quality monitors year after year to try to save our child from suffering. There are millions of families that cannot afford even this protection for their children.
My dream for the children of my country and the world is that they get to breathe clean air...that every breath they take does not poison them..that they wake up every morning to a beautiful blue sky and not the smog enveloped darkness every winter..and for that dream as parents we must fight today, the indifference and apathy of our elected leaders at home and around the world. Air pollution is a great equaliser...no amount of money will protect you from it. So please stand up and be counted!
Leticia from Brazil
Nossas crianças precisam crescer em um ambiente saudável. Precisamos de um meio ambiente equilibrado para as presentes e para as futuras gerações! O ar que eu respiro é tão importante quanto o ar que meus netos e bisnetos vão respirar! Zero carbono já! Não temos outro planeta para morar! Precisamos cuidar da nossa casa e do nosso planeta e infelizmente se a redução da poluição não partir espontaneamente precisamos de leis eficazes que regulamentem isso punindo os transgressores veementemente.
Emma from United Kingdom
We live on a super busy road, busier than ever because of a local ltn (low traffic neighbourhood). Our kids walk by the heavy traffic every day on their way to school. Little lungs are impacted by the pollution, this doesn’t feel good at all. Coughing and asthma has increased in our family
Liz from Australia
Our daughter was seven years old. One winter her asthma had been getting worse. The air in our inner suburb was heavily polluted with smoke from local wood heaters. Like many people we were unaware wood smoke was harmful. Wood heaters/stoves are the single largest source of human made air pollution in our country yet inexplicably so often overlooked as a source of air pollution. From the age of six months our daughter had ongoing respiratory related illnesses -bronchiolitis, coughs, multiple operations for ear infections, adenoids and tonsils. Meanwhile ongoing levels of wood smoke in our neighbourhood. Her wheeze had been getting worst and she was not improving with medications prescribed by our GP. We took her to hospital and within 10 minutes of being admitted I was pushed out of the room as multiple medical staff rushed in to save her life. She survived just - but it was terrifying ordeal for her, us and the staff. Later one of the doctors asked if we had a smoker at home. Since then we have researched wood smoke and purchased numerous air filters. Wood heaters are hugely popular so they are everywhere - we can’t move to an area without them. Governments everywhere need to phase out this unnecessary and seriously harmful form of home heating.