Thousands of schools close as smog envelopes India, Pakistan

Indian shcoolboys walk amid heavy smog near the Indian Gate monument in New Delhi on November 9, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2017
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Thousands of schools close as smog envelopes India, Pakistan

NEW DELHI: Schools closed across large swathes of north India on Thursday as a hazardous fog of toxic pollution cloaked the region for a third day, with growing calls for urgent government action to tackle what doctors are calling a public health emergency.
Punjab’s government said it was closing all 25,000 schools in the state for the rest of the week due to the acrid air blanketing north India and parts of neighboring Pakistan.
The decision came a day after Delhi authorities ordered all 6,000 schools in the capital to shut until Sunday.
Low winds and the annual post-harvest burning of crop stubble in Punjab and neighboring areas have caused the levels of dangerous pollutants in the air to spike to many times the levels considered safe.
Air quality typically worsens before the onset of winter as cooler air traps pollutants near the ground and prevents them from dispersing into the atmosphere, a phenomenon known as inversion.
Figures on the US embassy website showed levels of PM2.5 — the smallest particulates that cause most damage to health — spiked at over 1,000 on Wednesday afternoon in Delhi, though by Thursday they had fallen to 590.
The World Health Organization’s guidelines say 25 is the maximum level of PM2.5 anyone can safely be exposed to over a 24-hour period.
Doctors say the microscopic particles can penetrate deep into the lungs, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
“Delhi once again has become a veritable gas chamber with denizens finding it difficult to breathe,” The Times of India said Thursday, joining growing calls for government action to curb the chronic pollution, which the Indian Medical Association this week termed a public health emergency.
“Air pollution during winter months has become a catastrophe for large parts of north India,” the country’s most read English-language newspaper said in an editorial blaming “political apathy.”
“It’s high time the question is asked: why can’t authorities enjoying jurisdiction over the national capital of an aspiring great power... come up with concrete measures to tackle the world’s worst air pollution.”
As pressure mounted on the government, authorities in Delhi ordered a ban on all construction work and barred lorries from entering the city.
Around 50,000 mostly diesel-fueled lorries pass through India’s capital every night and they are a major contributor to the pollution plaguing the city.
It is the second year running that Delhi — now the world’s most polluted capital with air quality worse than Beijing — has faced such high levels of PM2.5.
Media reports said the thick smog had also led to a series of road accidents in north India.
Eight students were killed late Wednesday when a truck plowed into them as they waited for a bus on a roadside in Punjab.
Since 2014, when WHO figures showed the extent of the crisis, authorities in Delhi have closed power plants temporarily and experimented with taking some cars off the road.
But the temporary measures have had little effect.
Under pressure to respond, Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday sought to blame stubble burning by farmers in neighboring states.
“We we will continue facing this every year until the neighboring state governments resolve the issue of crop burning,” he told reporters in Delhi.
The practice of burning crop stubble remains commonplace in north India despite an official ban.
Kejriwal said his government would decide in the next day or two whether to reintroduce restrictions on driving cars in the city.


Media urged to deny Christchurch shooting accused the publicity he seeks

Updated 58 min 20 sec ago
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Media urged to deny Christchurch shooting accused the publicity he seeks

  • “We’re just going to be very careful we don’t become a platform for any kind of extremist agenda,” say Radio New Zealand chief
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier urged the public not to speak the gunman's name to deny the infamy he wants

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: The media has been urged to stop naming the man charged with the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch last week that left 50 people dead.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday that she would never speak his name. In a speech to parliament, she urged the public to follow suit and deny the gunman the infamy he wants.
“I implore you, speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them,” she added. “He may have sought notoriety but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name.”
Arden said the media can “play a strong role” in limiting coverage of extreme views such as his.
“Of course, people will want to know what is happening with the trial,” she said. “But I would hope there are ways that it could be covered without adding to the notoriety that this individual seeks.
“But the one thing I can assure you – you won’t hear me speak his name.”
The man accused of the mass shootings has so far been charged with one count of murder, but New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush has said further charges will be brought against him. The man said in a manifesto posted online shortly before the attacks that he intended to survive so that he could continue to spread his ideals, and that he intends to plead not guilty. He has said he plans to represent himself in court, although a judge can order a lawyer to assist him.
There have been calls for the media to refuse to report anything he says during the trial. Paul Thompson, the chief executive of Radio New Zealand, said his station will exercise caution and asked editors at all media outlets to take part in a discussion about covering the case.
“We’re just going to be very careful we don’t become a platform for any kind of extremist agenda,” he said, explaining that the station does not want to inflame the situation or become a party to the accused killer’s agenda.
Thompson described the case as “uncharted territory” but said he remains confident that his reporters will do their jobs professionally.
Dr Philip Cass, a senior lecturer in journalism at Auckland’s Unitec Institute of Technology, said the media will have to make “a very fine judgment” about what is reported if the accused killer uses the court as “a forum for the expression of his opinion.” He was wary, however, of calls to completely avoid reporting what is said in court.
“If you do that then we are moving into an area of censorship,” he said, adding that it is the media’s responsibility to provide a record of what is said and done.
Dr Catherine Strong, a journalism lecturer at Massey University, said she is confident that the media in New Zealand media will act responsibly. There is no legal or ethical imperative for journalists to report everything the accused says in court, she pointed out. The country’s media has already shown maturity by not using the name of the accused in headlines and by focusing on covering the shootings from the perspective of the victims, Strong added.

Hal Crawford, the chief news officer at MediaWorks, which owns TV3 and RadioLive in New Zealand, said, "Newshub is open to an industry-wide set of guidelines for reporting on Tarrant's trial, and we are in discussions with other newsrooms. Our aims are to minimise publicity of damaging ideology while reporting the workings of justice objectively." 

The man, who has not yet entered a plea, is due to appear in court again on April 5.