5 December 2017 is the first international Smog Day, a moment to remember all of the people who have died prematurely, and avoidably, because of air pollution. Smog Day also gives us a chance to advance visions of a world in which the air is fit to breathe.
We have choices about lots of things in life. Breathing isn’t one of them. Wherever we live, no matter how polluted the air, each of us will breathe about 250 million litres of air into our lungs through our lifetime – that’s 10,000 thousand litres every day.
Smog Day grew out of an initiative to share the experiences of people living with air pollution in two very different cities, London in the United Kingdom and New Delhi in India, but its ambition reaches far beyond. Smog Day supports UN Environment's Beat Pollution and Breathe Life campaigns, tying its message to concrete actions that people can take to clean up the air they breathe.
Smog Day falls on the second day of the UN Environment Assembly, the world's highest-level gathering on the environment. This year's Assembly is gathering under the overarching theme of pollution.
To learn more about Smog Day, visit the website, or read through the profiles below.
Mohammed Tafiq, rickshaw driver in Delhi
“The petrol and diesel fumes coming from … cars is terrible. Because of my work, I really notice it. Myself and other rickshaw drivers experience and see the source every day, first hand. There’s a lot of cars and traffic. We don’t have any air-con or fans, so we experience the full force of the pollution.”
Louise Osbourne, taxi driver in London
“There’s definitely more traffic, but sometimes it’s not always easy to monitor it when you’re in it … because it builds up under your nose without you realizing. I think it’s more, maybe when people get in the back of the cab and they haven’t been to London for a bit they go: ‘Oh my God, look at the traffic – isn’t it bad.’”
Nivedita Samanta, marathon runner in Delhi
“There are these scary studies, that say being outdoors and running for 15 minutes is like smoking a pack of cigarettes in a day. So I don’t know really, I just know I feel more tired after my long runs in the winter. It’s a different kind of tiredness, it’s almost, you know, your insides hurt… I remember last Diwali. You know the buildings there, I live close to that. I couldn’t see the building next to my house because of the smog… it was crazy, you woke up, you walked out onto your balcony and you couldn’t see the neighbouring building.”
Pippa Messenger, sustainability consultant in London
“I grew up in Watford, so not that far away from London, but I grew out of my asthma, went to university in Edinburgh, still did sport, still did my running. Then I came to London and tried to run around the local park, Wandsworth Common, and I could barely get around without having an asthma attack. It got so bad that I was really struggling to run any distance further than 5kms, and I had to take my inhaler every time I was running, if not more than once.”
Sanjay Kumar, student in Delhi
“In my opinion, the biggest contributor is actually the overpopulated streets of Delhi by vehicles. The number of cars is so high. Sometimes I have to cover my face when I’m pushing my cart and a vehicle accelerates in front of me, when it’s changing gear or something. They suddenly let out a huge cloud of black smoke and it surrounds me and my cart… One day I can specifically remember. It was the 19 August and I was sceptical of taking my ice cream cart out for business because there was so much pollution in the air… But I did go out, only because I really need the money from my job.”