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What It’s Like to Live in the World’s Most Polluted City (nationalgeographic.com)
139 points by kamaal on July 29, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments



Bangalore is no different. I hate to sound stereotypical and complain about the utter lack of infrastructure here but I have no choice. I grew up in Bangalore and only a decade ago, things a were a lot better.

The city drew millions of people from across the country in the last few years and simply hasn't keep up. Add to that an incredibly unstable state government and you have a city that can no longer service its residents. There's garbage everywhere, rude people, broken roads (which when left that way, attract more garbage because no one really cares anymore) and a complete lack of civic responsibility. The monsoons have made it worse! People get stuck in traffic jams for hours. Even in nicer neighborhoods, we lose power for half a day because of the rains.

I'm a proud Indian but I lose complete hope when I observe the current state of Indian cities.


Yep, I stayed in Bangalore for 3 months. For one or two months there we had daily 3+ hour power outages. I lived in the outskirts and when taking a bus to Bangalore Proper, it can take 3 hours standing in a packed and overheated bus. There are animals roaming around and garbage everywhere. I had giardia (a kind of intestinal parasite) from unfiltered water resulting in diarrhea 5+ times a day for half my time there. The landlord didn't rent by contract and the terms and payments kept changing. No one wanted to sell a foreigner a sim card so I had no sim the entire time.

For its reputation as a garden and tech city, I'm not impressed.


I call myself a Bangalorian now, but I have been here for 16 years. Not born and brought up in Bangalore, so some of you will cringe at my claim at being Bangalorian. I love this place because it gave me a career. There is no other place in India that I would be willing to move to. BUT, I am now worried about this city and the future my children have here (if they choose to continue to live here). Just yesterday, after a dinner with a couple of friends, we ended up discussing if there is a better place to go to in India. The answer, as always, was -- no. If I want a better life (which includes decent job opportunities), the only way out is to move to a place outside of India. I wish this was not the case.


It is sad that the success of the tech economy in Bangalore hasn't resulted in increase in services and infrastructure. Is this just due to corruption? I would think the tax coffers would be really large in the capital city.


curious, what are the regional options? singapore comes to mind but is extremely small and i presume therefore limited/difficult. are malaysia/indonesia/vietnam open to skilled immigrants?


I am into software product development and hence malaysia et al don't look promising. The alternatives I have considered are: Australia, Luxemburg, US, and UK, in that order. However, these are not regional options.


Wait, Luxemburg has a software industry?


I have been living in Delhi for around one year now, and as one of the other comments pointed out, this city is filthy and extremely polluted even by Indian standards (Note: I am an Indian and have traveled to and lived in many Indian Cities).

Here are some things that in my opinion make this one of the worst places to live:

- Filth, Garbage, lack of sanitation. Most of Delhi is filled with garbage. There is Garbage lying everywhere. People throw in out of their cars on roads while driving. People dump plastic bags filled with garbage to nearby streets on a daily basis.

- Pollution. Its monsoon season here in Delhi right now and for the first time in a year, I was able to spot a few stars in the sky last night. The rest of the year, the air is filled with a haze of noxious gases. I have seen vehicles emitting large plume of white smoke and no traffic policeman cares to stop them and ask for their pollution certificate. Garbage dumps mentioned by the OP are literally like mountains with smoke emanating from various parts all the time.

- Lack of space. Ok. There is no space in Delhi. For one to walk or jog.

- Angry culture. I am sad to say that I have never seen more road rage incidents anywhere else. People have very little patience and respect for fellow individuals seems to be missing more often than not.


Delhi resident here. Last winter, I developed severe breathing problems and had coughing fits. The doctor flatly told me "get out if you want to live well".


Also: limping, injured cows and dogs (with broken legs and bashed in skulls) hobble along the middles of the roads, red lights usually have no meaning, there is literally no concept of a stop sign. Life is cheap. The population is excessive. There's a basic break-down of order. At night cars with wealthy "gangsters" roam to pick up street children to rape them and then drop them off at some random place. The children often don't know what happened (think Slum Dog Millionaire).

Source: from there originally. Been there once in the last 10 years. Saw little had changed. Vowed never to go back.


Never heard about the gangster / street children phenomenon. Do you have something I can read up on, or an extended anecdote to share?



Lived all my life here in (various parts of) India but never seen or even heard about the gangster / street children phenomenon. Some more info on this would certainly be useful.


I shouldn't have written "gangsters." I meant "people." I've been listening to too much rap music.

India is a pervert's paradise. There are 10s of street children on any large street who will let you do anything in exchange for a meal. Sadly, for a short while, I lived at a place near where these kids were regularly dropped off. That's how I learned about it. The police won't talk about it (it'll make them look bad, plus they may actually be facilitating the process). The press won't talk about it I don't know why.

Everything in Slum Dog Millionaire is true. It happens. But before that movie, 50% of India didn't know it (the "better" half).

Women are raped inside police stations every day in India. By policemen. Who often get promotions after the act. There will still be Indians who will claim ignorance.

I was once in a commercial truck, and we were stopped in the middle of the road by the police. All our permits were in order. We still had to pay off the police to be allowed to move on.

The last time I was in India, the day I left the country, 50 people were killed by some group somewhere. In the news headlines, there was a statement from the Chief Minister of that state, from the Home Minister of India, and that's it. The news then moved on to what the Bachchans were up to that day. There were no names of the people killed. No clue who did it. There's no wikipedia page mentioning the massacre. If 10 people are killed in a Western Country, you can bet there's a wiki about it. With their names. And with a lot of closure on the incident.

It'll change. It'll take time. I'm hopeful. The internet will make a difference. Hopefully people will slow down breeding (my grandparents collectively had 20 cildren, I'm childfree for life).


I'm Indian and I live in Delhi. Yes it's pretty bad and it's a consequence of the massive population that exists in Delhi. Having said that...we are trying.

Delhi has much stricter vehicular pollution norms than other Indian cities...and it adopts them first. All public transportation in Delhi runs on compressed natural gas. The first city in India to introduce Singapore style partitioning of vehicular traffic (the odd-even scheme was accepted enthusiastically By the common man at the cost of inconvenience). The Delhi Metro rapid rail is a feat of engineering having covered the entire city in record time under existing buildings that are hundreds of years old. There is general acceptance of traveling in the metro (where seeing people working on laptops is common).

In general as opposed o places like Bangalore the drive to create sustainable civic infrastructure is a commonly held belief and translates into local politics.

It will take time...but we are getting there.


Did they also add sewer and fiberglass lines alongside the metro lines? Just curious.


actually from what i know - inside the metro lines. The metro is planning to carry a lot of bandwidth now.


>fiberglass lines

*fiber optic


Yes I figured. Which is why I was replying about bandwidth


The article mentions waste water treatment plants, but no sewer system to transport the waste.

Anyone know why?

I've heard people say "too many people", but too many people means a huge labor force that is low cost.

I would think that building a sewer system would be pretty straightforward. Massive countries like China have pretty good wastewater treatment (relatively speaking) in the cities. So do other developing countries.

Why is it such an issue in India?


Plenty of reasons. Mostly corruption, embezzlement, lack of expertise in what to do with affluent & rules abour what can be discharged to the river (which is polluted anyway) but bureaucracy

The entire city doesn't look like this or lack sewage. Its just some hotspots.

I have lived in Delhi for couple of years before moving back to Bangalore. Delhi truly is the asshole of India.


I was wondering if it was corruption. It's not like we don't know how to deal with sewage. It's just a matter of actually doing it.


To give you an idea of corruption and inefficiencies, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the governing body responsible for all municipal matters in the city, has more employees than the entire Indian Air Force.

Of these, an estimated third are fake employees. They do not exist, yet the government "pays" them. Their salaries are collected by corrupt officers to the tune of nearly $3M every year.


Lack of good urban planning. Houses are built before everything(water, sanitary facilities, water drains). And then everything is planned around them. What you get is semi-ghetto areas, where everything has to be crammed in without any intelligent design. So you get small sewage pipes which don't have the bandwidth to carry waste water, let alone any reasonable sewage(like toilet paper).

Now imagine entire mini cities rising up like this. How do go around building sewage drains? They too come up randomly, emptying into lakes, ponds, former rivers.

This is exactly the case near my home in Bangalore. 10 years after the houses were built municipal corporations are now putting in an after thought. In fact roads are so badly planned that there people who have encroached the entire section of the street discontinuing the road from one corner to the other. They get away by bribing local corporators.

Also there is no door-to-door garbage collection facilities so people discard household waste onto some corner in every street which has to be later cleaned by garbage men who show up once in 2-3 weeks, hence mosquitoes and dengue like diseases.


Some of it is cultural. (I can't speak to their engineering practices or limitations, anyway.) Toilets aren't a given in India. They're generally available in cities. But, for example, on some locomotives, the toilet is a literal shithole cut in the floor, for you to you void directly on the tracks.

source: was tourist

relevant article picked at random: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/india-is-b...


This is actually pretty common, worldwide. The trains in the Netherlands technically 'flush', but they flush right onto the tracks.


In Germany, we replaced that system several decades ago, because at 160km/h+ that can become pretty risky to do.


Yep. Thats why there are signs telling you not to use the toilet at stations.

On the other hand the streets in the Netherlands are littered with dog poo..


Same in India, there are signs and rules against such usage.

But like many such things in India, very few actually care: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/you-may-be-f....


Honestly it seems like a reasonable system. That kind of waste will decompose extremely quickly.


That's true, but it's also a matter of volume. Flushing a toilet every 10 miles of track sounds fine, but with enough passangers it becomes pretty gross.


Huh. Do they have the pretense of a commode, or is it a hole sawn into the floor?


I saw this in America in the 90s, on an Amtrack train from Seattle to Los Angeles. When I went to flush, I could see the railroad ties flashing by under the toilet. The staff locked the washroom doors when we entered cities.


Having lived in Delhi all my life, I can confidently say that it's really as bad as it looks. There's a huge divide though. Like, the middle class (to which I belong) and the rich live in relatively cleaner areas, go to places where there are no piles of trash lying around (and if there are, ignore them). I think the city can't fix unless it keeps ignoring it and make the poor suffer. There is no sense of community here. "It's not my problem" is the prevailing attitude.


Maybe the destitute don't yet have the language to argue the disenfranchisement, but one day they will, and unless someone makes it (Indian) society's problem to address, it will become everyone's problem and a drain on the economy and prosperity. I can understand the new middle class wanting to enjoy their newfound comfort by themselves, but, for their own sake, they should be worried for those in their own society --they are not scoundrel invaders, after all, because if they don't it will be to their own detriment.


> There is no sense of community here. "It's not my problem" is the prevailing attitude.

In Hindi there is a saying, Apna Kaam Banta, Toh Bhaad Mein Jaaye Junta. Translation - If my work is done, I don't care - the rest can go to hell.


I wonder how much of this attitude spreads into work mentality. In my time as a consultant, I heard a lot horror stories about failed offshored IT projects. (My own experience with offshore service centers is quite good though.)


I beg to differ.

Delhi has no planning. Every "rich" area is right next to a slum. Saket has Khirki village, Def Col has Shiv Nagar, Green Park has Gautam Nagar.

My supposedly "rich" area of East of Kailash is right next to Garhi village, which is phenomenally filthy. It's absurd to me that people who live in million dollar houses and drive 50 lakh carsare so comfortable with open garbage dumps right outside their homes


Of course, it's true for the city overall that there is no planning. Notice my caveat about ignoring. It's different for a lot of other places though. Plenty of gated communities where you don't see the kind of filth you would see outside etc.


I've had a lot of difficulty talking to people here about the climate change - specifically people from business communities.

There seems to be a prevailing attitude of "We are now in a phase of development as an economy. First world countries had an opportunity to grow without regulating pollution. Regulating us will inhibit our ability to catch up".

For some reason the literal end of the world isn't a strong enough argument for them. When I mention it, I am frequently told that it doesn't matter because no matter what is done, the outcome in terms of climate change is going to be the same at this stage.


Climate change occurs because of greenhouse gases, not because of particulate matter, which is the kind of pollution in delhi. More advanced countries like USA and china still produce the same percentage of energy from coal as India. They produce an order of magnitude more of greenhouse gases. 25% of human produced greenhouse gases is just USA. India hasn't even made a mark in the environment. Yet India is unfairly criticized, somebody talk to climate change ignoring China and climate change denying USA first.


The pollution there is a nightmare. I spent maybe four days in Delhi and had a cough that followed me for almost a week afterward. Even by Indian standards the place is filthy.


Its not even just the industrial waste and litter in Delhi though, the city is streaked with red spit from Paan(betel nut) chewers. It is everywhere, its disgusting. Then there is also the fact that around half the population don't have access to a bathroom on the subcontinent, so people urinate and defecate outside everywhere. You are never not far from bodily fluids in Delhi. More people have access to cell phone than bathrooms in India. All this aside though it is truly an amazing and fascinating place to visit. It's unlike anywhere else.


Puts in perspective our problems.

Not that our problems aren't worth fixing, it's just a stark reminder that some places in the world remain uncivilized.


All the pictures are from the dumping ground! Guys, it's an official dumping ground for the whole city. Many years ago it was far away but Delhi kept on growing. Current state is result of swallowing many villages/farms and neighboring cities for decades. This article takes a part of Delhi and paints it entirely like it.

I am surprised by other commenters are well.


Well, if you leave out the Lutyens' Delhi, pretty much all of Delhi is like that.

What shocks me the most is that how people here just accept the despicable state of their surroundings and just go on with their lives. I know of folks that own Audis and Mercs, but live next to a dumping yard. Now what is the point of having all that money, when you get see/smell only filth most of your life.

I had visited Delhi for the first time around twenty years ago, and it seems that despite of all the measures like CNG driven public transport and Metro, the situation has only gotten worse.

Unfortunately the political will here is too weak to effect a disruption to the current state.


> I know of folks that own Audis and Mercs, but live next to a dumping yard. Now what is the point of having all that money, when you get see/smell only filth most of your life.

The point is that one gets to compare it against the general population and thereby satisfy one's own ego. Generally, cars are a nice instrument for showing off wealth: they are highly visible. Homes are another excellent example.

You highlight very well the absurdity of valuing such monetary wealth in a context where it makes little sense.


Problem is overpopulation and less number of cities. Delhi/Mumbai and other metros get weight of the whole country. Unless more metros get created situation won't improve.


Wasn't there only one Lutyen?


No the picture of the kid in the river and the garbage on the river bank could be anywhere along the Yamuna River in the city. There are also lots just filled with garbage in Paharganj, so not its not just dump sites. Also old Delhi is one of the dirtiest places I think you can visit.


>“There have been times I've had garbage in my hands and I've had to carry it with me all day, because there are no bins anywhere,” he remembered.

Boo hoo. Tokyo has no public trash cans and it is immaculate. The people there just care about the place they live in and don't burn shit to heat their houses.


This comment is an example of something we desperately need less of on Hacker News. It's predictable, racist, and has a complete lack of intellectual curiosity. Please do not do this here.


I was painting with a broad brush, and for that I apologize. It was a swift - perhaps too pointed - response to an exasperated whine from someone with an expectation of luxury when none was necessary, or deserved. "Why isn't there someone else to clean this up for me?" just wreaks of entitlement. Japan has its share of problems, but their culture teaches the importance and value of clean common spaces, and the individual citizen's part in keeping them that way, from childhood. [1]

1. http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/04/04/396621542/without-...

In India, dung is used as fuel, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes ritualistically.[2]

2. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/Indias-Newest-Inter...

Politics in india pits ethnic group against ethnic group, caste against caste, in order to keep power and accomplish as little as possible. The economy is improving, but it appears to be stratifying, with radical divergence between the lifestyles of the richest and poorest. The wealthy are able to live in bubbles of luxury private development, blissfully unaware of the suffering just outside the gates. [3]

3. http://ideas.ted.com/skyscrapers-but-no-sewage-system-meet-a...

I'm bringing a lot of baggage, coming from a country where labor isn't cheap and the population isn't over a billion, but there is something to the value of human life here that I thought was universal. Maybe the expectations flip around when there are so many people that it would be cruel not to offer more garbage pickup jobs.

That smells a bit like a broken window fallacy though.


Ha! Yeah, I was at a train station in Jaipur and talking with a security guard who pointed at the metre high piles of garbage between the tracks and said, "They only have one rubbish bin here, so people throw their trash wherever." I'm like, uh, there's a metre high pile of garbage. Maybe carry your shit with you.

In the distance a herd of goats crossed the piles and paused to eat every so often, so I guess there's that.


Tokyo, interestingly, has about the same nominal GDP as the whole of India.


Oh, that must be it. Indian people care less than people of other nationalities, and it has nothing to do with... say, drastic disparities in the quality of public infrastructure.


Civilization isn't a thing that just happens. You have to work for it.


While your answer is a bit flippant it should not be voted down. Lot of reasons for the pollution and sanitary conditions. You can't expect people who work 12 hours a day but sill have a tiny amount of money to be civic champions but there are plenty of middle class and above do needless anti social actions.

Just need more people to push back against things like driving on the sidewalk, queue jumping, and blatant garbage dumping. Sometimes I do and the offenders generally listen or are shamed to stop for at least a bit.


> Oh, that must be it. Indian people care less than people of other nationalities, and it has nothing to do with... say, drastic disparities in the quality of public infrastructure.

Public infrastructure in India ultimately derives from the people. India has had 60+ years of independent, democratic rule. Blame for the lack of public infrastructure can't even be shifted entirely onto the colonial rule: India had some of the earliest hydroelectric power stations and pretty good rail infrastructure set up during that period.

Different cultures assign different values to various things. India collectively has not assigned a huge value to public hygiene. This is evidenced by things like the paan chewing and spitting mentioned in this discussion. This is socially acceptable in most parts of the country.

Slowly, things may change.


At end of day someone needs to take those trash for recycling or dumping. Garbage collectors don't come to each house in most cities in India. I live i tier 2 city. Garbage collection from each house started recently. Now you garbage bins are rare. City is one of the top ten cleanest city in India. But to note that total population of city is very less, its highly educated.


What city?


Cities in Korea have no trash cans too. Clean, clean, clean. I had to carry my trash everywhere, but whatever.


Why don't they have trash cans?


Terrorism fears: they removed them after the 1995 gas attack on the subway, and never really added them back.


Uhhh... so like, what about that whole thing where, like, someone could simply disguise a deadly device as a big old pile of garbage?

Am I the first person to have that idea?


I think I see a way to get the trash cleaned up real quick. Burner phones are cheap there, right?


Not everywhere though. I was reading this comment as I got off the Yamanote line at Shinagawa and literally stared straight at trash bins. They do have see through plastic panels and see through plastic bags, for the reason you stated.


They only have trash bins at train stations because people drink and eat on the train. In the city there is nothing elsewhere.


The UK also has terrorism concerns, originating from the IRA days.

But they didn't abolish trash cans (or better, they replaced them with a metal ring and the bag stays visible)


They did abolish rubbish bins for many years. It's only about 5 years ago that the metal ring type was introduced

http://londonist.com/2011/06/bins-are-back-on-the-undergroun...


If this is true, I think this probably ranks high up there among the daftest of management responses for such a thing as "terrorism".

If the world and its manual processes were programs and code, these stories would be front page of the The Daily WTF.

Head hurts.


It turns out to be great for sanitation. People carry their garbage out with them and so you don't end up with overflow and rats. NYC is trialing it for the sanitation reasons alone


It's hard not to read this as "the solution to a city government abdicating its responsibilities is to abdicate them even further. Problem solved."

Like, why not just do away with all those pesky municipal services people pay taxes for? It'd be so much easier.


Except there are real examples in the world where it really works. The data is compelling.


The data is cherry-picked. Look at this very article for a counterpoint.


Why?

Without the bins in London, there was close to zero "clutter" in underground stations. That makes it much easier to monitor for suspicious packages.




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