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 Natural disasters are increasingly keeping children out of school in the wake of climate change. The UN’s Global Goal 3 focuses on good health and well-being for children to reach their full potentials. You can join us and take action on this issue here

The New Delhi city government is distributing 5 million face masks to children, who will need to wear them indefinitely as protection against air pollution and cannot attend school. 

New Delhi closed all schools on Friday until Nov. 5 after an environmental panel declared a public health emergency. Air pollution has reached record levels due to hazardous smoke from farm fires in New Delhi’s neighboring states, according to Reuters.

The smoke has trapped in toxic smog that poses a threat to the city’s 20 million residents, Al Jazeera reported

“A failure to improve air quality will result in more school absences, asthma exacerbations, visits to the hospital, and premature deaths, not only for children but for all people,” Jesse Berman, environmental health sciences assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, told Global Citizen. Air pollution will only worsen under climate change, he explained. 

The Central Pollution Control Board's (CPCB) index measures the concentration of tiny particle matter that can be carried deep into the lungs and cause deadly cardiac diseases and cancer. Any level above 100 is considered unhealthy. The CPCB quality index has hit 500 in several parts of New Delhi, and up to 743 in others, which can seriously affect those with existing respiratory illnesses and healthy people. Children breathing in this air could cause permanent brain damage, experts say. 

Read More: Air Pollution Is Killing More People Than Previously Thought: Study

New Delhi air is usually particularly bad this time of year when farmers burn crops despite bans, and people set off firecrackers to celebrate Diwali

Community groups and doctors took to social media to call for schools to close until the air quality improves, according to Al Jazeera. The city government has responded to the crisis by shutting down construction projects and coal-based power plants. New Delhi will also temporarily restrict the use of private vehicles on roads alternating between cars with odd or even license plates to reduce air pollution starting next week. 

Out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world, 14 are in India, and air pollution kills more than 100,000 children under 5 in the country every year. 

“Reducing pollutants through regulatory controls, such as tighter vehicle emissions standards, and technological advancements, such as moving from coal to renewable energy, can reduce the concentrations of air pollution and human exposures,” Berman said. “India has been putting some of these rules into place.”

The problem is that the country doesn’t always enforce its anti-pollution laws.

Stopping the serious health threat against schoolchildren requires the health sector to inform the public on the dangers of air pollution and the implication of policies to reduce air pollution, according to the World Health Organization. Schools and playgrounds should be located away from major sources of air pollution like high-trafficked roads, factories, and power plants, the agency says

"The biggest challenges to making these changes are usually political will,” Berman added. “People recognize the importance of breathing clean air and drinking safe water. It is up to us to convince decision-makers that these are critical issues and demand that changes be made."


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New Delhi Shut Down Schools in Response to Severe Air Pollution

By Leah Rodriguez