Every day tons of trash arrives at the Ghazipur landfill in the eastern part of New Delhi. The amount of trash has grown into a mountain more than 210-feet tall. Methane gas created by the trash causes daily fires that release toxic smoke. This causes the air to become extremely toxic, and sometimes acid rain occurs. (Lasse Bak Mejlvang) (Lasse Bak Mejlvang)
Photographer Lasse Bak Mejlvang recently went to India to document the conditions of a country that has a large concentration of the most polluted cities in the world. Mejlvang’s project, titled “Air Like Poison” chronicles the daily conditions that inhabitants of Delhi, India, live, work and play under. Below are some statistics Mejlvang became aware of while working on this project.
At the time of this project, it was estimated that 90 percent of the world’s population breathe highly polluted air. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers air pollution to be the biggest societal heath risk in recent times. It is estimated that more than 7 million people die each year due to the consequences of air pollution. Air pollution now claims more deaths each year than smoking, hunger and natural disasters combined.
In October 2018, WHO published a list of the 10 most polluted cities in the world. Nine of the 10 cities are located in India. With its more than 21 million inhabitants, the capital New Delhi has been at the top of the not-so-well-reputed list for a long period of time. The pollution level in the city is 20 times higher than the recommended levels, and the consequences of the air pollution are now beginning to affect the city’s inhabitants in a very serious way. The air pollution enhances the risk of strokes, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer.
The photographer, Lasse Bak Mejlvang, has a background in fashion and portrait photographer. Since 2010 he has been working more and more with reportage photography. For the past 10 years he traveled with his camera telling stories from all over the world. Since 2014 Lasse has been working full time as a freelance photographer, where he primarily moves in the field between portrait and reportage photography. You can see more of his work here.
People walk through the Ghazipur landfill. (Lasse Bak Mejlvang) As winter sets in, dust particles and polluting substances become immobile, and due to stagnant winds in the area, these polluting substances are locked in the air, which affects the weather conditions and results in an increased amount of smog. (Lasse Bak Mejlvang) Decorative trucks transport most of the goods in the city. They might be beautifully decorated, but the trucks pollute their surroundings in an extreme way due to their diesel engines. (Lasse Bak Mejlvang) There are more than 200,000 motorized rickshaws in New Delhi’s streets. Most of them are old and run on diesel, which releases the most toxic type of exhaust fumes. (Lasse Bak Mejlvang) Air pollution is also caused by overpopulation in the capital. New Delhi has over 20 million inhabitants, and is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Since 1990, the city’s population has doubled, and it does not look like it is stopping. It is estimated that in the year 2030, New Delhi will have more than 36 million inhabitants. Overpopulation in known to have a huge effect on both the environment and the climate. (Lasse Bak Mejlvang) Protective masks has become a fixture in the daily life in New Delhi. However, the effective, filtered masks are expensive and out of reach for most of the city’s inhabitants. (Lasse Bak Mejlvang) The Yamuna River rises in Himalaya, in northern India. Together with the Ganges, the Yamuna is one of India’s holiest rivers. Its water is so pure that you can drink directly from the river – until the river reaches New Delhi’s city limit. Sewerage, chemical spills from factories, laundry detergents and bleach, along with other human activities, have turned the Yamuna into India’s most polluted river. (Lasse Bak Mejlvang) When the Yamuna River flows into the southern part of New Delhi, it is filled with toxic chemicals, which is visible in the large, white splotches of toxic foam that float about. No animal life is left in the water, and the fumes from the river are toxic to inhale. In the city Agra, which is about 185 miles away from New Delhi, one of India’s most famous buildings, the Taj Mahal, is placed. The Yamuna flows closely by the palace, and the consequences of this can be seen by the fact that the building’s bricks have turned yellow and green from the air pollution that the river brings with it. (Lasse Bak Mejlvang) As the winter season sets in, dust particles and polluting substances become immobile, and due to stagnant winds in the area, these polluting substances are locked in the air, which affects the weather conditions and results in an increased amount of smog. (Lasse Bak Mejlvang) The steadily increasing middleclass is clearly evident in New Delhi’s traffic. Issues with hour-long traffic jams is an everyday occurrence. Every other inhabitant owns a motorized vehicle, which means that there are more than 10 million cars and motor bikes in the city. Carbon occurs in both gasoline and diesel engines as a chemical reaction of hydrocarbon in the combustion chamber, and the carbon is discharged to the air via the exhaust pipe. The carbon’s compound often contains hundreds of different chemical elements, such as sulphates, ammonia, nitrates, as well as cancer- inducing substances. Therefore, exhaust fumes are very harmful to inhale. (Lasse Bak Mejlvang) (Lasse Bak Mejlvang) Construction work in New Delhi is developing at fast rate. It is estimated that 70 percent of the construction planned to be finished in New Delhi by 2030 is still under development. The production of cement, along with poor conditions at the construction sites, result in contamination and pollution. Regulations on shielding off the construction sites are not complied with, and dust from the construction work therefore whirls into the air and mixes with exhaust fumes from the traffic, causing the air to become even more toxic to inhale.
(Lasse Bak Mejlvang) (Lasse Bak Mejlvang)
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