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Burgeoning traffic major cause of pollution in Swat

Updated August 21, 2016

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Rickshaws polluting the air in Mingora. —Dawn
Rickshaws polluting the air in Mingora. —Dawn

With rapid increase in the number of vehicles in Swat, air pollution due to vehicle emissions has also increased, which not only contributes to climate change but also affect human health to a great extent, say environmental experts.

According to the data available in the district motor vehicle excise and taxation office in Swat, a total of 40,347 vehicles including motorbikes, cars, jeeps, tractors, buses, taxi cabs, rickshaws, trucks and pickups are registered till date.

The Swat district Excise and Taxation Officer (ETO) Dawood Shah said that there were many other vehicles registered in other parts of the country and moving in Swat while several vehicles registered in Swat were out of Swat too.

Ironically, there are over 12,000 illegal auto-rickshaws plying on Swat roads, but the district government is unable to seize them.

About the illegally registered rickshaws, he said that there were two types of registration; private vehicles and commercial vehicles. “The registration of private vehicles falls under my control which I mark to our inspector for verification, while to register commercial vehicles I mark the case to the motor vehicle examiner who is not in my office. Therefore, we register rickshaws after the verification of MVE,” Mr Shah told Dawn.

However, a large number of non-custom paid (NCP) vehicles in Swat are temporarily registered with the district police office. According to the latest data available in the DPO Swat office, a total of 60,000 NCP vehicles move in Swat.

The total population of Swat district is about two million according to the last census and the total number of all the legal, NCP and illegal vehicles in Swat stands at 114,226. It means for every 18 people there is one vehicle available in Swat. Such a large number of vehicles emit high level of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, particulate matter and other pollution.

According to the data from January to June 2016 of the air pollution-related diseases available in the Swat district health office, a total of 17,846 patients of scabies, 11,036 of dermatitis, 216,639 of acute respiratory infection, 8,405 of pneumonia, 1,986 of TB, 1,271 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 9,484 of asthma, 13,624 of depression, 479 of drug dependence, 451 of epilepsy, 4,042 of eye diseases and 15,548 of ear diseases were recorded. This data has been obtained only from the government facilities.

Owing to the rapid increase in the number of vehicles and lack of emission control technologies, Vehicle Emission Testing Stations (VITS) were established in 1997 with the technical assistance of GTZ German Agency for technical cooperation equipped with three sets of emission control technology to test and analyse emissions of all kinds of vehicles.

Vehicle Emission Testing Station, Swat region, head Imtiaz Ahmad said that the huge number of auto-rickshaws and the other vehicles in Swat were the major contributors to pollution. Two-stroke engines have higher carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than four-stroke engines in rickshaws.

“In 2015-16 VITS monitored 14,000 vehicles in Mingora following National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) and issued pass certificates and stickers to 10,000 vehicles while 4,000 vehicles which failed the NEQS protocols were fined according to the traffic laws,” he said.

Mr Ahmad said that in 2016 exposure of 4.4ppm carbon monoxide (CO), 14.3ppm sulphur dioxide ( SO2), 8.4ppm nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and 128 micro gram/m3 total suspended particles (TSP) were measured in Mingora, which all affect human health badly. He said that his team was trying to minimise their exposure in the near future.

Air pollution is the major cause of respiratory infection, lung cancer, heart diseases, asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, skin diseases and pulmonary diseases.

According to the Section 15 of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997, vehicles that produce air pollutants and noise beyond the limit provided by the national environmental quality department should be banned while two-stroke auto-rickshaws should be replaced with that of four strokes.

Climate experts say that combustion of gas and diesel produces greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate changes to a high extent.

Syed Mushtaq Ali Shah, regional director of Pakistan Meteorological Department, said that the air pollution along with deforestation and uncertain developments in Swat had increased temperature level and also changed the rain pattern to a high extent as the amount of rain not only decreased, but also became erratic. “The rain pattern has changed completely as now it often showers to extreme level for a day and then for months there is no rain while slight increase has been recorded in the monsoon rainfall pattern,” he said.

Presently, Swat valley is facing severe threats and impacts of the climate change as there is a record high increase in the temperature with flash floods and droughts becoming increasingly common. The main cause of the increasing warm weather is the vehicle emissions along with cutting of forest on a large scale in the valley.

A report on climate change and disaster risks in Swat, Shangla and Kohistan districts carried out by Lasoona, a local organisation in Swat, indicates that the mean total precipitation was 19.4 inches (492mm) in 1961 that declined to 17.2 inches (436mm) in 2014, while the mean temperature reveals an increase of 0.2 degree Celsius. “The increase in temperature and depletion in the precipitation has not only affected the well-being of the local people, but has also reduced the glaciers covered area and water resources in the catchment areas of Swat, Ghurband and Indus River,” the report states.

Environmental experts have stressed the need for controlling the increasing vehicular emissions and the rapid increase in illegal and NCP vehicles in the region for pollution-free environment.

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2016