Delhi’s Smog Has Caused an Unlikely Casualty: Diplomacy

Many diplomats have complained about the ‘unbreathable’ condition of the city.

Updated
India
3 min read
A smog-laden Delhi has worried many foreign diplomats.
i

By now, Delhi’s recent conflict with pollution is no news to the world. The city has been shrouded in smog since the past two weeks. The situation has become slightly better now, but not without leaving possibly far-reaching consequences.

Apart from making life difficult (quite literally) for over 20 million Delhiites, the pollution has also impacted the foreign diplomats, who otherwise are said to find the Indian capital an attractive posting. Many diplomats have complained about the ‘unbreathable’ condition of the city, and have even left for other places due to it.

This is coming at a time when the Ministry of External Affairs has been lobbying extensively for the re-election of Justice Dalveer Bhandari to the International Court of Justice, making matters a tad difficult. How? Well, whom will the ministry lobby when the diplomats go MIA due to pollution?

Speaking to India Today, Thailand’s ambassador to India Chutintorn Gongsakdi said that out of 10 ASEAN ambassadors, only seven were present in Delhi. He added that while smog may not be the main reason for their absence, it could be one of them. Alluding to Bhandari’s upcoming ICJ vote, which would take place on Monday, 20 November, he said:

If you have to call the ambassadors urgently to lobby, you would be facing the Deputy Chief of Missions, the person-in-charge. As far as I know, out of 10 ASEAN envoys, there are 7 ambassadors in Delhi. The others are out of town.

Gongsakdi even reached out to the MEA about how the air pollution is "affecting the inflow of tourism... and the daily operations of some of the Missions".

He met Chief of Protocol Sanjay Verma on Friday, and was assured that the government is doing its part to contain the problem.

I would like to assure you that the Government of India is giving this matter top priority.
Sanjay Verma, Chief of Protocol

However, as usual, there were some who took Gongsakdi’s argument as an insult to India. The Thai envoy replied to one such person on Twitter.

Diplomats Wanting to Scurry Out of the City

Recently, Costa Rica’s envoy to India Mariela Cruz Alvarez decided to move to Bengaluru after developing a respiratory illness due to Delhi’s deadly air quality. According to a report by Financial Express, Alvarez, who is also a yoga practitioner, wrote in a blog post wrote that “her tropical lungs couldn’t take the toll”.

Citing her serious respiratory infection due to Delhi’s “unbreathable” toll, Alvarez said:

I work to bring awareness about climate change and now I feel the personal impact of our global lack of awareness. We need to wake up fast. India I love you and it hurts me to see you drowning in loads of plastic and toxic air. Where is the leadership? Clean air and water are basic human rights.

Similarly, many other diplomats have been wanting to get out of the city. A report in The Indian Express quotes an east Europian diplomat as saying that a political posting in New Delhi (otherwise an attractive job for most) might soon be slotted under ‘hardship’ postings.

Usually, conflict and security-sensitive areas get the tag of ‘hardship’ or ‘non-family’ posting zones. Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria fall under the category. Many such countries also pay a ‘hardship allowance’ for serving there. If the environmental issues persist, Delhi might join the list of countries.

According to the report, the diplomatic community in Delhi is facing a crunch as its members are forced to take sick leaves due to the smog. Many have even decided to cut short their stay or shift to nearby places, like Singapore.

Air Purifiers Not Enough

Despite going heavy on the use of air-purifiers, the diplomats are finding it difficult to breathe healthy, because as a French diplomat told The Indian Express, “You cannot sit inside a room and conduct diplomacy… you have to go out and meet people.”

Diplomats are also concerned about the effect of the smog on their children’s health. Even though most of the embassy schools are using air purifiers, as mentioned above, it isn’t a foolproof solution.

Mexican envoy to India, whose country’s capital was named the most polluted city in the world by WHO in 1992, questioned why the cars exported by India to Mexico have catalytic convertors, but those run in India don’t.

Speaking to CNN News18, Melba Pria said it is high time that everyone comes together to fight pollution.

A Hazy Picture

Last week, going to Haryana for a public event, Israel’s ambassador Daniel Carmon tweeted pictures of the ‘smoggy’ way.

The visits of Belgian King Philippe and Prince Charles to Delhi also showed a bleak vision with the top representatives seemingly struggling with the heavy smog.

  • 01/03
    Belgium’s King Philippe barely captured in a photograph, amid heavy smog, during a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan, on 7 November 2017.(Photo: ANI)
    Belgium’s King Philippe barely captured in a photograph, amid heavy smog, during  a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan, on 7 November 2017.
  • 02/03
    Belgian royal couple King Philippe and Queen Mathilde with President Ram Nath Kovind, his wife Savita, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose amid smog at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.(Photo: PTI)
    Belgian royal couple King Philippe and Queen Mathilde with President Ram Nath Kovind, his wife Savita, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose amid smog at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
  • 03/03
    Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles arrive in Delhi on 8 November 2017.(Photo: ANI)
    Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles arrive in Delhi on 8 November 2017.
Published: 
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!