THE dreaded ‘fifth season’ has arrived. Although the density of the smog has diminished thanks to sporadic rainfall — and perhaps the emergency steps taken by the government, such as shutting down of brick kilns that have not adopted zigzag technology — a light smog is nevertheless witnessed at dusk in Lahore. New research by FAO confirms the link between smog and the burning of rice stubble by farmers along Punjab’s rice belt — but this is not particularly groundbreaking news. Environmentalists have bemoaned pollutants released into the air when farmers set fires each year: a quick and inexpensive way to deal with residue ahead of the harvesting season. Even though this method harms the soil in the long term, and even though India has placed a ban on it, stubble burning is rampant across the states of Haryana, Punjab and UP. Much of this arrives at Lahore’s doorstep, or airwaves, but it would be erroneous to place the entirety of blame on our neighbours. Images released by Nasa have shown crop-burning fires in Pakistan as well, though to a lesser extent.
Other causes for air pollution include small industries that cannot afford treatment plants and end up burning plastic and rubber for fuel, especially since power outages are frequent. Diesel emissions and the use of two-stroke vehicles such as motorcycles and rickshaws are another major cause. Then there is the residue of dust from large-scale development projects. All these factors combined lead to a health emergency each year. The smog also causes visibility issues, with an increase in road accidents. Globally, air pollution is now the fourth leading cause of death. Instead of adopting last-minute emergency measures that inconvenience many, the solutions have to be gradual and well-thought-out. Environmentalists have suggested improving fuel quality, introducing renewable sources of energy, planting more trees and improving public transportation services. Pakistan and India must also work together to strategise long-term solutions. Nature and its discontents do not recognise borders.
Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2018