ISLAMABAD, March 18: For the first time in almost 14 years, spring rains in the region have been plentiful, cooling the weather and increasing local greenery. A side effect, however, is an increase in pollen which has made the rain a mixed blessing for more sensitive residents.

According to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) spokesman Dr Wasim Khawaja, "The number of allergy patients is markedly higher than it has been in the past few years, and they've started arriving much earlier than usual. Already, there have been more than 2,000 patients - some of them in emergencies." Saying that prevention was better than cure, the doctor recommended that those sensitive to pollen consult medical professionals about precautions.

Some of the allergies are due to increased pollen. Dr Mohammad Hanif, the director of the Met Office, said heavy rain in February and two cycles of spring rain in March, "growing things got some much needed strength." More trees, plants, shrubs, bushes and grass means more plants releasing more pollen.

Only Monday, the pollen count in Islamabad was nearly 32,000 cubic meters, far beyond the Sunday's 26,421 and even more strikingly above the numbers for last year, when pollen was below 5,000 cubic meters.

While an increase in pollen makes life difficult for allergy-prone residents, the rain has been welcomed by many others. Officials at the Capital Development Authority, who plant around 500,000 saplings across the district every spring, say they "expect an 80 per cent success rate this year" because of the more-typical spring weather. They have also launched a new Rs16 million programme to improve parks and green belts, particularly in G sector.

Some residents, too, are pleased. A woman from I-8, Mrs. Inayatullah, said she had planted vegetables for the first time in years.

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