India: air pollution forces thousands of schools to close, stranding millions of students

A toxic cloud over India’s capital Delhi has prompted Indian public authorities to take the unprecedented step of closing 4,000 schools for nearly a week.

Levels nearly 30 times what the World Health Organisation considers safe

Delhi has notoriously noxious air but even by the standards of this city, the pollution has been alarming, reaching levels nearly 30 times what the World Health Organisation considers safe. On 7 November, the government decided to close primary schools, and the next day the closings were extended to all public and most private schools.

In some parts of the city, the levels of PM 2.5 — very small particles that can settle deep in the lungs — had climbed to more than 700 micrograms per cubic meter, which is considered hazardous to breathe, according to data provided by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee. Scientists estimate these particles have already killed millions.

The Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi State Manish Sisodia even explained that he was driving to a meeting Wednesday morning when he passed a school bus and saw two children throwing opening the window to get sick. “That was shocking for me,” he said. “I immediately told my officers to pass the order to close all the schools.”

Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal. Pollution levels will be reassessed, he said, and a decision made about whether schools should remain closed for longer.

Over four million children are now out of school, as it is believed they will be safer staying at home than going to and from school on polluted streets, though most homes in Delhi do not have a single air filter. Officials acknowledged that this was the first time so many schools would be closed for this many days.

AIPTF: teachers urge Delhi government to take urgent steps to control the situation

One of Education international’s national affiliates, the All India Primary Teachers Federation (AIPTF) expressed grave concerns on the dangerous state of air pollution and smog in Delhi.

Straw burning in the neighbouring states have added to the ever existing air pollution in Delhi, stressed AIPTF Secretary General Kamala Kant Tripathy, adding that “such situation is very dangerous particularly for the young students and poor who have to spend lot of time outdoors which may cause irreparable health hazards.”

He demanded of the Delhi government immediate measures to control the situation and keep the schools closed until then. He also called upon the government “to come out with a comprehensive long-term plan to curb air pollution and smog which has become an annual phenomenon now”.

The current situation in Delhi highlights climate change due to unchecked and unregulated development and consumption of natural resources Tripathy observed, requesting joint efforts by central and state governments and India’s citizens to meet the challenge. He further guaranteed public authorities of the AIPTF members’ full support in tackling this environmental hazard.

Education international hopes the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the UN Convention on Climate Change, currently held in Bonn, Germany, will focus on finding long-term solutions to these environmental disasters, and invite COP23 participating countries to include climate change education in national curricula.

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