Kathmandu, Mar 30 (efe-epa).- Nepali authorities on Tuesday closed down all educational institutions due to rising air pollution, caused by hundreds of forest fires that have covered the country in a layer of smoke and led to cities like Kathmandu topping worldwide pollution charts.
Schools will be kept shut for four days over concerns that the pollution could affect students, Sanjay Sharma – secretary at the education ministry – told EFE.
Authorities have also urged citizens to remain at home.
An undersecretary at the forest department, Sundar Prasad Sharma, told EFE that Nepal had registered 479 incidents of forest fires since Thursday, marking one of the worst figures over such a short period.
The sudden eruption of multiple fires has led to large parts of the country, including the densely populated Kathmandu valley, being covered in a yellowish smog consisting of smoke and suspended particles.
According to data provided by Swiss company IQAir, which measures worldwide air quality in terms of particle concentration, Kathmandu registered an average air quality index (AQI) of 303 this week, classified as “hazardous.’
On the AQI scale, values above 100 are considered dangerous for children, the elderly and people with respiratory or heart problems, while above 300, the situation is considered dangerous for the general population.
According to IQAir charts, on Tuesday Kathmandu was the second most polluted city in the world, only behind China’s Hangzhou.
The rising air pollution has also led to lower visibility, which has affected air traffic according to Pratap Babu Tiwari, the general manager of Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport.
Tiwari told EFE that domestic airlines have had to reduce daily flights by 40 percent, although international flights have not been affected.
Environmentalist Vijay Kumar Singh said that Nepal had witnessed a dry winter between December and February, followed by a rapid rise in temperatures during spring, with the country recording just 25 percent of the average rainfall during the period.
“This pollution can continue until the valley gets the spring rain,” Singh told EFE. EFE-EPA