North India is in a haze. Delhi has closed schools after briefly opening them. Many other states and cities have not even taken action. Children are the most vulnerable of our populations, susceptible to permanent lung damage. Yet, lakhs of children will not benefit in any way by staying at home anywhere. About 30 to 40% of a city’s population lives in informal settlements. Inevitably, children step out to play on a day off from school. Scolding them won’t help.
State governments must invest in science-based protocols that can be implemented by schools, illiterate parents and the children themselves. For example, when should schools shut down? What AQI is too much for children to leave home? What should children be doing when their school asks them to stay home? Amongst the poor, online education is not something that occupies them all day, and nor does it keep them indoors. With poor parental oversight, especially as both parents work in many cases, what can students be taught about looking after themselves? Schools should stay focused on sports-related exposure too. From morning PT to Sports day, all exposure children to toxic air. We need SOS helplines for children’s health too.
We must not delay developing and imaginatively communicating to children and their caregivers how they can look after themselves if they live in sub-standard housing with minimal resources. This adaptation should be an urgent first step that should have been taken a long time ago.
(The writer is founder and director, Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group)