Confronting India's Urban Disaster

Contrary to popular belief, Beijing's air pollution is not nearly the worst in the world. The air of Delhi, India, is twice as polluted. For expats, this disaster raises important questions: is it ethical to live, and raise children, in India?

2 minute read

June 8, 2015, 5:00 AM PDT

By Josh Stephens @jrstephens310


Delhi Skyline

Francisco Anzola / Flickr

In the United States, it's becoming increasingly hard to appreciate the dangers of air pollution. Though work remains to be done, American cities and industries have managed to reduce exhaust through a variety of methods, some of which are considered expensive but which environmentalists consider good investments. To see the benefits of those investments, one needs only look, tragically, to India, whose cities have some of the worst pollution in the world. 

In an op-ed, New York Times correspondent Gardinier Harris makes this tragedy personal. While Indian citizens may have no choice but to suffer in dirty air, expatriates face a choice of whether to live in India or not. Harris, who lived in Delhi, argues that the dangers posed by air pollution increasingly make this not just a lifestyle choice but in fact a moral choice, with his children's lives literally at stake. 

"Delhi’s true menace came from its air, water, food and flies. These perils sicken, disable and kill millions in India annually, making for one of the worst public health disasters in the world. Delhi, we discovered, is quietly suffering from a dire pediatric respiratory crisis, with a recent study showing that nearly half of the city’s 4.4 million schoolchildren have irreversible lung damage from the poisonous air."

"Foreigners have lived in Delhi for centuries, of course, but the air and the mounting research into its effects have become so frightening that some feel it is unethical for those who have a choice to willingly raise children here. Similar discussions are doubtless underway in Beijing and other Asian megacities, but it is in Delhi — among the most populous, pollutedunsanitary and bacterially unsafe cities on earth — where the new calculus seems most urgent.

"Sarath Guttikunda, one of India’s top pollution researchers, who moved to Goa, on the west coast of India, to protect his two young children, was unequivocal: 'If you have the option to live elsewhere, you should not raise children in Delhi.'....And then there are nascent areas of research suggesting that pollution can lower children’s I.Q., hurt their test scores and increase the risks of autismepilepsydiabetes and even adult-onset diseases like multiple sclerosis."

Friday, May 29, 2015 in New York Times

View of Mount Hood at golden hour with Happy Valley, Oregon homes in foreground.

Clackamas County Votes to Allow ADUs, Residential RVs

County officials hope the zoning changes will help boost the housing supply in the region.

June 18, 2024 - Mountain Times

Single-family homes in a suburban neighborhood in Florida.

New Florida Law Curbs HOA Power

The legislation seeks to cut down on ‘absurd’ citations for low-level violations.

June 16, 2024 - The Guardian

Aerial view of intersection in New York City with yellow cabs and zebra crosswalks.

Planners’ Complicity in Excessive Traffic Deaths

Professor Wes Marshall’s provocatively-titled new book, "Killed by a Traffic Engineer," has stimulated fierce debates. Are his criticisms justified? Let’s examine the degree that traffic engineers contribute to avoidable traffic deaths.

June 13, 2024 - Todd Litman

Digital drawing of person holding city skyline with wifi symbols and lines indicating smart cities or data.

Cities Awarded for Data-Driven Projects

The What Cities Works Certification recognizes cities for using data to solve real problems.

8 seconds ago - Smart Cities Dive

The Basilica of St. Joseph in San Jose, California.

Faith-Based Housing Movement Grows

More churches and municipalities are saying ‘Yes in God’s Backyard.’

1 hour ago - Vox

Close-up of red and white BUS LANE sign painted in street lane.

Why BRT Can Benefit Cities More Than Rail

Bus rapid transit lines offer a less expensive, quicker-build alternative to rail that can bring other infrastructure improvements with it.

2 hours ago - Governing

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.