Smoggy relations

Published November 3, 2017

THE noxious smog engulfing large parts of upper Punjab is yet another reminder that Pakistan and India have much to talk about beyond geopolitics.

According to many reports, the smog is coming from the burning of agricultural waste in Indian Punjab, and satellite imagery actually shows the widespread prevalence of the farm fires.

There is little to nothing that the provincial authorities here can do to reduce the intensity of the smog, although much can be done to mitigate its impact, such as issuing alerts and raising awareness about steps that citizens can take to protect themselves from its harmful effects.

In addition, the capacity of public-sector hospitals to deal with smog-related respiratory ailments can also be increased.

But when it comes to actually dealing with the causes, Pakistan needs a channel of communication open with the Indian government, preferably at the provincial level, to raise the matter formally.

It is not clear whether the practice of burning agricultural waste is new and why smog of this kind has not been seen in the longer-term past.

Last year it was there, but the usual smog that has engulfed Punjab’s cities comes later in the year, and has been linked by a couple of studies to chemical pollutants produced from coal-fired power plants across the border.

Problems such as pollution, climate change and water flows know no boundaries, and both countries are facing a rising arc of challenges from these with each passing year.

Whatever may be the sentiments on either side, at some point both India and Pakistan will have to talk to each other about these issues, or they will suffer the consequences together.

Given the huge impact that these challenges have on the lives of the masses on both sides of the border, a pragmatic approach is becoming increasingly urgent.

Clarity of mind is needed on both sides before the smog in the air, and in their relationship, can be cleared in a more permanent way.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2017

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