Tue, Nov 14, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Delhi schools reopen despite smog

PERSONAL EMISSIONS:A plan to restrict private car use collapsed after a court objected to exemptions for VIPs, women and motorbikes, but the ruling was to be appealed


Students walk to school yesterday after three days off due to heavy smog in Amritsar, India.

Photo: AFP

Angry parents yesterday accused Delhi authorities of “playing with children’s health” as schools reopened despite a fresh surge in pollution to emergency levels.

Doctors last week declared a public health emergency when choking smog descended on the capital and elsewhere in northern India, prompting authorities to close schools, ban construction and bar trucks from entering the city.

Authorities reopened schools yesterday amid concerns over upcoming exams, angering some parents.

“There has been no let-up in the pollution levels, so if the situation is the same, action should be the same. Why open the schools now?” All India Parents Association president Ashok Agrawal said.

“On one hand the government is saying there is a health emergency and on the other they are playing with children’s health. It is so disturbing to see children coughing and struggling to breathe all the way to the school,” Agrawal added.

Levels of PM2.5 yesterday topped 500. The smallest and most dangerous particulates penetrate deep into the lungs, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The WHO says 25 is the most anyone can safely be exposed to over a 24-hour period, and levels over 300 are considered hazardous.

Doctors say children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution and this can cause long-term damage to their lungs.

One 2015 study found that four in 10 Delhi children were suffering from severe lung problems.

“It is a fact that children are particularly vulnerable and more affected by pollution than adults,” Delhi Medical Association doctor and president Ajay Lekhi said. “They breathe more air per pound of body weight, so their exposure to air pollution is much greater.”

A report in The Lancet medical journal said pollution had claimed as many as 2.5 million lives in India in 2015, the highest in the world.

Large swathes of north India and Pakistan see a surge in pollution at the onset of winter, when farmers burn crop stubble following the harvest.

The cooler air also traps particulates close to the ground and prevents them from dispersing — a phenomenon known as inversion.

In Delhi, industry, coal-fired power plants and a growing number of cars have worsened the crisis.

The state government last week announced restrictions on private car use from yesterday, but the plan collapsed after India’s top environmental court objected to exemptions for women, VIPs and motorcycles.

It was expected to appeal the court’s ruling yesterday.

Delhi is the most-polluted capital in the world according to a WHO survey conducted in 2014, with levels regularly exceeding those in Beijing.

Pollution monitoring authorities said the situation could have improved later yesterday as winds strengthened.

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