efe-epaZoilo Carrillo Mexico City

A pollution-triggered environmental emergency in Mexico's capital has forced school closures and sparked concern among local residents, while the mayor said Thursday that a long-term strategy is needed to tackle the metropolis's severe air-quality problems.

Not even a rainstorm on Wednesday afternoon was enough to bring an end to the extraordinary environmental contingency plan that Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum declared two days ago and said on Thursday would likely be extended until the weekend.

On Thursday, Sheinbaum said at a press conference alongside Mario Molina, co-recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry, that renowned Mexican scientist Victor Hugo Paramo will head up the Environmental Commission of the Megalopolis (Came), a position that had been vacant since February.

She said the environmental crisis is forcing authorities to design more effective anti-pollution measures and improve decision-making both in the short and long term.

A road map is being sought for Greater Mexico City - home to more than 20 million people - that enables such high levels of pollution to be prevented in the future.

City officials have come under heavy criticism from local inhabitants who, though accustomed to high levels of pollution and resulting environmental alerts, have taken to social media on this occasion to express their anger about the poor air quality and upload images of a capital shrouded in smog.

Authorities canceled classes at schools in and around Mexico City on Thursday and Friday, and Sheinbaum on Thursday announced a meeting to design anti-pollution measures.

Respected environmentalist Homero Aridjis told EFE on Thursday that the government must be better prepared not only to deal with emergency situations when they occur but also to anticipate them beforehand.

Sheinbaum, who took office in December, acknowledged in a video Tuesday night that no protocol was in place for the high concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) that triggered the extraordinary environmental contingency plan announced on Tuesday.

Levels of PM 2.5 increased sharply due to wildfires on the outskirts of the capital over the weekend.

At present, the Nezahuacoyotl measuring station's air pollution index for PM 2.5 stands at 140 points, two points lower than Wednesday and down 20 points from Tuesday.

Although the environmental emergency appears to be abating, Aridjis said that unless drastic steps are taken the problems will only get worse.

"The only thing that can save us are effective and timely regulations and codes of conduct, functional protocols, so officials are not surprised by these emergencies, so they're prepared," he said.

Aridjis also said that a Mexico City program that prevents drivers from using their cars one day per week should be made even stricter.

Restrictions also are needed to reduce emissions from different factories operating in the city, he said.

Virgilio Languse, 25, told EFE that he knows "going out on the street can be harmful" to his health and that he has taken extra precautions in recent days.

"I think this is the strongest (environmental emergency) I've experienced so far. I'd never before gone outside and really felt bad, (but) the pollution is really strong," he said.

Maria Esquivel, 50, said for her part that the "pollution has been really intense" and that the fact that schools have been closed shows how bad things are.

"You practically can't walk around the city because of so much pollution," Esquivel said, adding that she had never seen anything like it before.

A total of 1,680 children under the age of five in Mexico die as a result of air-pollution-related illnesses, the Network for Children's Rights in Mexico (Redim) and Greenpeace said Wednesday.

Those non-governmental organizations said in a bulletin that the number of deaths attributable to that cause rose by 60 percent between 1990 and 2015 due to high concentrations of pollutants, mostly linked to automobile use.

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