India’s capital has shut down schools for an extended period while neighbouring Pakistan has declared a four-day school holiday as the two nations see pollution levels rising to an alarming level.
The New Delhi government on Wednesday ordered the closure of all schools for an extended period, the latest in a series of measures to protect residents from growing air pollution.
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Air quality levels in the city were higher than 320 on the air quality index on Wednesday, a level categorised as “hazardous” by Swiss group IQAir, although it was not as bad as the 400 range hit earlier this week.
Schools in the capital city would remain closed from Thursday until November 18 on a winter break, which was originally scheduled for January, the Delhi government said in a notification.
Primary schools in the city had already been shut, as part of measures to protect young children against smog and growing air pollution.
The world’s most polluted city, with a population of more than 20 million, has announced a restriction on the use of vehicles next week to curb rising pollution.
The government has also stopped construction activities and wants neighbouring states to control crop residue burning.
Farmers in Punjab and Haryana usually burn crop stubble left behind after rice is harvested in late October or early November to quickly clear their fields before planting wheat crops.
The practice has been followed for years and the resultant smoke has typically accounted for 30 percent to 40 percent of Delhi’s October-November pollution, according to the federal government’s air-quality monitoring agency SAFAR.
On Tuesday, the country’s top court ordered states surrounding New Delhi to stop farmers from burning residue.
In Pakistan, the pollution-fuelled smog forced authorities to close schools and markets this week in the country’s most populous Punjab province, whose capital Lahore has risen to one of the world’s worst cities for hazardous air quality.
“The government has decided to close down markets for four days from November 9 to 12 in the major cities of Punjab because of smog on the advisory of the health department,” said Amir Mir, the information minister for Punjab, home to more than 110 million people.
Schools, offices, restaurants and businesses, aside from priority services like pharmacies, hospitals and courts, would all close to limit residents’ movement outside, according to a directive from the provincial government.
In Lahore, air quality was the worst in the world on Wednesday, according to Swiss group IQAir, with the air quality index at a “hazardous” 432, followed by the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi at 204.
Heavy smog blanketed Lahore this week, reducing visibility and leading residents to complain of a threat to their health.
“The weather is such that everyone has a bad throat and bad eyes, and everyone’s health is getting affected,” said Mohammad Salahuddin, a private guard in Lahore.
Growing industrialisation in South Asia in recent decades has fuelled growing pollutants emanating from factories, construction activity and vehicles in densely populated areas. The problem becomes more severe in cooler autumn and winter months, as temperature inversion prevents a layer of warm air from rising and traps pollutants closer to the ground.
Rising air pollution can cut life expectancy by more than five years per person in South Asia, one of the world’s most polluted regions, according to a report published in August which flagged the growing burden of hazardous air on health.