Delhi's schools to reopen next week, parents wary of hazardous air

Delhi's schools to reopen next week, parents wary of hazardous air

Dr. Dhiren Gupta, a pediatrician, demonstrates to his patient Akshra Quereshi how to use a spacer d
Dr Dhiren Gupta, a pediatrician, demonstrates to his patient Akshra Quereshi, 10, how to use a spacer device for her medication at a hospital in New Delhi, India, Nov 15, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis)

NEW DELHI: Schools in India's capital New Delhi will reopen on Monday (Nov 18) after closing for two days due to a spike in pollution levels, but air quality is likely to remain "very poor": A notch below the most hazardous "severe" rating, raising health risks for millions of students.

As a thick cover of toxic smog wrapped New Delhi's 20 million residents on Friday, government pollution monitor SAFAR showed air quality index in the capital was at 540, indicating "severe" conditions, and relief was unlikely in the next 24 hours.

By Monday, Delhi's air quality would likely remain "very poor", SAFAR said, indicating prolonged exposure could lead to respiratory illness.

The city government of Delhi had imposed a two-day shutdown on schools for a second time this month after pollution control authorities declared a public health emergency.

For 32-year old Shamin Qureshi and his 10-year old daughter Akshara, a challenging week lies ahead.

"We have no choice but to send her back to school with her inhaler and medicines," Qureshi said.

READ: New Delhi in 'day-to-day battle' with smog as cool weather sets in

A boy with a covered face looks through a window of a train in New Delhi
A boy with a covered face looks through a window of a train in New Delhi, India,Nov 15, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis)

The maximum impact would be on school children, said Dhiren Gupta, senior consultant, paediatrics at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, who is also treating 10-year old Akshara.

Toxic smoke wreathing the city has plunged air quality into the "severe" pollution category on more days this month, as data showed that a pledge by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stamp out burning of crop stubble in neighbouring states has not worked.

The air quality index measured by the US embassy in New Delhi surpassed 500 on Friday, which reflects conditions that could cause more serious health effects for everyone.

The index measures the concentration of tiny particles that can lodge deep in the lungs and cause serious ailments, known as fine particulate matter PM 2.5, from their diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less. Levels above 60 are considered unhealthy.

READ: Trapped and helpless: How families are fighting Delhi's pollution horror

People walk outside the Red Fort on a smoggy morning in the old quarters of Delhi
People walk outside the Red Fort on a smoggy morning in the old quarters of Delhi, India, Nov 15, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis)

Every month, Qureshi spends US$50, nearly a quarter of his monthly salary, on multiple visits to the hospital for his daughter's medical review.

"These medicines, which either you give by nebulisers or by inhalers, are costly. So the burden lies on the parents and the family," Gupta said.

Activists who say the federal government has been unable to resolve the issue also point to the inability of ordinary people to pressure authorities to fight the public health crisis.

Critics have also questioned the silence of Modi, an avid user of Twitter.

READ: Key facts behind Indian capital's toxic smog

A woman crosses a railway line on a smoggy morning in New Delhi
A woman crosses a railway line on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India,Nov 15, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis)

"Undoubtedly, this is a collective failure of all governments," said Anupam, a spokesman of political party Swaraj India, referring to the federal government, the city government of Delhi and its neighbouring states.

Anupam, who uses one name, belongs to the regional party founded by Yogendra Yadav, a leading academic turned politician.

Source: Reuters/zl

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