Rich-poor divide

Deadly air exposes rich-poor divide, Channel News Asia, March 21, 2019:

Delhi’s affluent, who are often better informed about the dangers of pollution, increasingly expect the same safety measures they have in place at home, to be available when they are out. High-end eateries, bars and cinemas are tapping into that demand – installing electronic air purifiers and creating dedicated areas of rich vegetation to help filter airborne toxins. But for … the one in five Indians living on less than US$2 a day, visiting such places is nothing more than a fantasy.

This is a very important piece not because it captures the experience of being poor in a polluted world but because it describes what it’s like to be rich at the same time.

News articles don’t usually concern themselves with the lives of the elite – they’re not supposed to, at least – but when it comes to air pollution, being affluent and having access to ‘protected spaces’ is also a window into how the elite are postponing having to deal with polluted air in the short-term. Specifically, we’re responding to air pollution as if acknowledging the underprivileged will reap the longer-term fruits of solutions we sow now whereas the already-privileged have access to both short-term and long-term solutions. (cf. the bit about the “shot of oxygen”).

The short-term, stopgap solutions are what go unaddressed when elite policymakers are strategising ways to ‘fix’ the air pollution problem. The article highlights how much harder life becomes in the here and the now for those who can’t access these solutions – whether that’s effective pollution masks or public parks maintained to have cleaner air.

(I wrote about just this issue in 2016 but restricted to the life of a journalist in Delhi.)