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Lahore smog: It's not a natural phenomenon

Updated Nov 03, 2016 12:03pm


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The recent spell of dense fog and freezing weather conditions disrupted air and train travel in Punjab and other areas of the country.
The recent spell of dense fog and freezing weather conditions disrupted air and train travel in Punjab and other areas of the country.

Every December, thick fog descends upon Lahore, blocking out the winter sunshine, closing off the motorway after dusk and preventing flights from landing at the international airport at night.

The problem has grown worse over the last five years due to the high levels of pollution and poor air quality in the city, created by increasing vehicular and industrial emissions. Even during the summer months, there is now a permanent haze hanging over the city that is only relieved when it rains and the pollution is washed away for a short while.

Air pollution is an issue that needs to be urgently addressed as Lahore is now considered amongst the most polluted cities in Asia. In the winter months, with delayed rainfall, the cold and continuously dry conditions concentrate all the pollutants in the lower levels of the atmosphere, causing the smog to spread all over the Punjab.

“After a month of thick fog or rather smog, we finally saw some sunshine last week after some light rain came down the night before,” explains a resident of the Lahore Canal area. “We are so sick of the cold and damp that comes with the smog each year.” The foggy conditions also lower the daytime temperatures since there is little sunshine to warm up the day.

According to Dr Qamar uz Zaman Chaudhry, national climate change expert and former Director General of Pakistan’s Meteorological Department, “The main source of the pollutants in our lower atmosphere is Eastern Punjab where all the coal based industries are centered (across the border in India). Of course, we have added our share of the pollutants as well from factory and car emissions.”

In places near irrigation canals, rice paddies and rivers where there is more moisture available, the fog gets even thicker. The smog only gets cleared when it rains, washing away the lower layers of the atmosphere where all the harmful gases and other pollutants are trapped near the ground.

Lahore, along with New Delhi, has recently been listed amongst the top 10 worst cities for smog in 2014 according to the Deutche Welle website. Until industries on both sides of the border start cleaning up their emissions and people start using more fuel-efficient transportation, people will just have to avoid going outdoors or wear masks as they do in the heavily polluted cities of China in Beijing. Breathing in all these trapped pollutants (dust and harmful substances like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide) is not exactly healthy. Industrial smog can in fact create major health risks, including asthma, lung tissue damage, bronchial infections and heart problems.

Last month, the Government of the Punjab submitted a report to the Supreme Court of Pakistan on the steps taken to curtail pollution in the province. According to the report, there has been a great increase in the number of vehicles in Lahore during the recent past, which has resulted in worsening air quality.

The report also pointed out that there is now a complete ban on the issuance of registration and route permit of two stroke engine rickshaws (introduced in 2005) and the process of conversion or replacement of existing 2-stroke rickshaws into 4-stroke rickshaws has been initiated. However, many of the motor vehicles plying the city roads have old engines that guzzle petrol and diesel and spew out poisonous fumes and there is a need for stricter laws on banning these vehicles.

In Delhi, which is also blanketed by smog throughout the winter months, the well-known environmental NGO, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is urging the government of India to acknowledge the air pollution problem and put in place pollution emergency action for smog episodes. According the to the CSE, “What matters most from the public health perspective is the daily dose of toxins that people breathe. If urgent steps are not taken to bring pollution levels down to meet clean air standards, it will lead to a public health disaster.”

Labourers work at a brick kiln near Lahore. Open burning, vehicles, factories and power generation contribute significantly to the air pollution in Lahore.
Labourers work at a brick kiln near Lahore. Open burning, vehicles, factories and power generation contribute significantly to the air pollution in Lahore.

The CSE uses state-of-the-art portable air quality monitoring equipment to track how much pollution an individual is exposed to in Delhi while doing their daily chores. This dust track aerosol monitor measures both mass and size fraction of the particulate matter. According to Sunita Narain, the head of the CSE, “Our data is quite shocking – we have found that daily personal exposure to toxic air is significantly higher than the background ambient air pollution that is monitored by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee. This is a serious risk to public health.”

The CSE wants their government to implement an air quality index with health advisory and pollution emergency measures. They would also like to see nation-wide Euro IV in place by 2015 (India has stricter laws on cars then Pakistan). They would also like to control dieselisation with tax measures to cut deadly toxic particles and scale up public transport. Lastly they would like the government to restrain the growth of cars with parking restraints and taxes in the city and implement priority action for power plants, open burning, generator sets and construction.

Lahore could do well to take a leaf out of Delhi's book and perhaps initiate a programme similar to that of the CSE, albeit on a government level.

According to the Health Effects Institute, the damage from the poor air quality ranges is not just limited to public health. Heritage (nitric sulfuric acid erosion), natural resources and agriculture are also greatly effected.

There is a need for a comprehensive action plan to address worsening levels of pollution not only in Lahore but throughout the country in which NGOs and the media will have to play a pivotal role.


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Comments (34) Closed

abi Jan 24, 2015 03:55pm

surely, Problem need to be addressed fast. Last month it was difficult taking breath in Lahore..

adnan Jan 24, 2015 04:35pm

the days when petrol shortage was acute, you could certainly feel that breathing was easier

Amer RAO Jan 24, 2015 04:48pm

The small things you do every day can help reduce air pollution, Government, NGO.s and now social media should take serious actions, otherwise it will be really harmful for all to live.

Harmony Jan 24, 2015 05:37pm

This article is a good eye opener. With such levels of pollution, if nothing is done health issues will get worse.

Mudassar Siddiq Jan 24, 2015 05:40pm

One of the major contributors of vehicular polloution is traffic jams. They can easily be minimized by simple basic steps of road management. Encroachments, unnecssary police checking by blocking roads, uncontrolled stops for public transport, fruit vendors on road side, extended tree branches, no management by schools at drop and pick up times are few of rhe areas to be improved.

shahid sadik Jan 24, 2015 05:50pm

getting rid of smog in Lahore will be a major undertaking, because air velocity is too low during 10 months. For example, cities next to ocean have less fog as air velocity is higher.

Research Methodology Jan 24, 2015 06:00pm

As the petrol prices are going downand expected to remain low for 2015we can expect an increase in fossil fuel burning. It is important that government impose carbon tax to discourage the abuse of cheap petrol. It also helps government recover some of the loss in tax revenue she is loosing due to falling petro prices.

TuTu Jan 24, 2015 06:45pm

I've heard that this pollution is due to coal plants being used in india to generate electricity. coal is known to be environment unfriendly and cause of pollution in the air.

Hasnain Jan 24, 2015 07:40pm

If you follow the given link... you find 9/10 cities are from Asia!

Ayer Jan 24, 2015 08:59pm

Our future problems are going to be water,pollution and natural disasters. Meanwhile both nations expend their energy on meaningless wars and conflict. Soon there will be nothing left to fight for.

Ganga Din Jan 24, 2015 10:05pm

Unbelievable! No body is calling for resignation of Shahbaz Sharif.

BRR Jan 24, 2015 10:16pm

The winds are not likely to blow from Delhi or Indian Punjab to Lahore, is it? The wind typically blows west to east, or southwest to north east in summer and monsoons and northwest to south / southwest in winter. So someone has their facts wrong, don't they?

Gp65 Jan 24, 2015 10:20pm

@Hasnain Your point is directionally correct but Egypt is in Frica, Moscow is in Europe and Mexico City is North America, so it would be 7 out of 10

Moona Jan 24, 2015 10:26pm

Absolutely! More needs to be written about this.

Khadim Jan 24, 2015 11:09pm

Along with all the other measures, our population growth has to be brought to zero. Meaning the newborns should only replace those who die of natural or other causes. Without stabelizing the population levels we cannot control pollution, smog, cutting down of forest land, dwindling wildlife, water quality etc etc. If we have a truly sincere government, they will surely take this issue of population explosion. In my assessment we are already too late by at least 25 years.

Ayaz Jan 24, 2015 11:40pm

Pakistan is under a pollution blanket that is more visible during winter months. The breathing of polluted air by humans, animals and live stock causes illnesses and shorten life. Smog is distributed equally to poor and well to do population. Day is not too far when this air would choke everyone without discrimination. Take control to reverse the process of pollution. Doctors for Pakistan

deva Jan 24, 2015 11:53pm

its not natural, its result of farmer burning there crops waste in farm land. + uncontrolled industrial pollution.

white noise Jan 25, 2015 01:12am

that is why it is called Smog and I have been a victim of this many times when traveling from overseas, that is why I no longer make travel plans in December.

btw, headline picture is a great, kudos to the photographer !!!

Cyrus Ho Jan 25, 2015 04:11am

Pakistan has just been welcomed to the 21rst century.

My understanding is that India, one of the world's three top air polluters, is right next door. Just through the gate in fact.

Cyrus Ho Jan 25, 2015 04:13am


Pakistanis can buy all the dust masks needed from China. Beijing is way ahead of you.

Cyrus Ho Jan 25, 2015 04:22am


Automobile, lorry and bus engines need to be rebuilt when they are wearing out, otherwise petrol and diesel fuel leak past the worn piston rings and value stems, burning and producing smoke from exhaust pipes.

If an automobile is using one liter of oil per day, it actually is burning a liter one oil per day. An old car's exhaust is blue, and an old truck with a diesel engine belches black smoke. Black means carbon emissions which cause asthma in human beings, especially in children living in cities.

Usman Jan 25, 2015 05:35am

Pity, my grandmother from Jhang could tell me why there's so much fog in Punjab this year, its because of the floods. You can keep writing about air-pollution, its not related. Experience beats science, .. everytime.

Observer Jan 25, 2015 05:37am

Carbon emissions need to be checked!

Tamza Jan 25, 2015 06:18am

@shahid sadik Tokyo was like the in 1975; it is now a CLEAN AIR CITY

sukhera Jan 25, 2015 07:16am

@Ganga Din. So you think Shahbaz Sharif should resign because he is responsible for the coal burning power plants pollution in East Punjab (India). Indians as well as Pakistanis are suffering from the pollution of power plants used to generate cheap electricity in India. There`is nothing we can do to curtail the pollution in the neighboring country. For its part,Punjab government in Pakistan is not issuing any new registration for two stroke engines used in rickshaws and existing two stroke engines are being replaced with four stroke engines. It will take some time to have an effect on environment due to these changes. Ordinary people living in big cities can do lot to cut down pollution in the city and should use public transportation/car pooling to cut down pollution in the city. We should not expect the Government to do everything for us, the public has to take the first step.

Tanveer Jan 25, 2015 08:00am

India released the smog intentionally

Mabob Jan 25, 2015 08:11am

What may be the route to overcome this man made SMOG. This is what I expect you to suggest.

Naseer Ahmad Jan 25, 2015 08:30am

Whether natural or man sparked, fog in Lahore is sometimes so thick that if you slap a man in a marketplace, the chances are than he will hit a third person in retaliation,

AK Jan 25, 2015 10:49am

And yet, most of my facebook friends were posting statues as: "Wow, great weather, Fog! Loving winter!" Haha

Helga Ahmad Jan 25, 2015 12:10pm

Completely ignored remains that people had to use anything burnable to cook their meals. Simultaneously no effort for massive tree plantation to balance the pollution are undertaken.

Patriot Jan 25, 2015 01:11pm

@abi But NS priority is Metrobuses, motorways, flyovers and underpasses. He lives his 40000 kanal Raiwind Palace, away from Lahore main city problems. So why should he be bothered about smog/ pollution in Lahore or , for that matter, in other major cities??

Ganga Din Jan 25, 2015 03:35pm

@sukhera : You didn't get it.

Rustam Jan 25, 2015 10:31pm

It's the huge number of automobiles that is the cause. A partial solution is just in sight, if our rulers have the will and the vision. Pakistan is lucky that almost a quarter of our cars are equipped with CNG engines. CNG is a much cleaner fuel. All we have to do is make it available and the problem of smog will reduce. No matter what we have to do, we must complete the Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline.

Harmony Jan 26, 2015 02:57pm

@Ganga Din - "You didn't get it". It says something that people don't get you.