LAHORE: “Urgent Actions” – an Amnesty International (AI) campaign has raised serious concerns about how the hazardous air quality in Lahore has been posing a risk to the public health.

It says that every person in this city of over 10 million people, is at serious risk for developing complex health issues thanks to bad air quality.

“Urgent Actions” is a campaigning tool that AI has been using to mobilise global support for the victims of human rights’ violations and for prisoners of conscience.

Previously, it was issued regarding the Asiya Bibi blasphemy case.

The human rights organisation is currently mobilising the world’s population to campaign for Lahore’s constant smog problem, and to speak for the millions who live in Pakistan’s second largest city.

The smog -- the ‘fifth season’ -- as it is called now, occurs between October and February in the region when several factors combine and worsen the already unhealthy air. Poor fuel quality, uncontrolled industrial emissions, and open burning of garbage as well as crop stubble are some of the causes.

On Wednesday, once again, Lahore was enveloped by a blanket of thick smoke, creating visibility issues and slowing down traffic, especially in the downtown. People travelling between cities said that they could sense a burning odour.

Air Visual Earth showed Wednesday’s Air Quality Index (AQI) to have shot up to a maximum of around 852, while other readings showed AQI of 555, 471, 396, 481, etc. Most of these pockets were in central Lahore, but even surrounding areas have readings of 235, 256, and in one place 429.

The minimum AQI that was recorded was 192, which according to the international benchmarks means the air is “very unhealthy”.

The citizens are unhappy with the way the issue is being dealt with.

South Asia Campaigner at AI, Rimmel Mohydin on Wednesday said the government’s inadequate response had raised significant human rights’ concerns.

“We are calling on our members around the world to write to the Pakistani authorities to tell them to stop downplaying the crisis and take urgent action to protect people’s health and lives,” she said.

According to a 2015 report published by the UK medical journal, Lancet, more than 310,000 people die each year in Pakistan because of poor air quality.

For one in every two days this month, the air quality in Lahore has been classified as “hazardous” by air quality monitors installed by the United States Consulate in Lahore and the Pakistan Air Quality Initiative (PAQI). The government shut schools down on at least three days this month, and once again November 22 has been announced a holiday.

Since October, at least seven days have seen air quality reach hazardous levels.

Prolonged or heavy exposure to hazardous air can result in asthma, lung damage, bronchial infections, or heart problems and can lead to shortened life expectancy.

Background

Article 12.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 11.1 (f) and 12 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women of 1979 and Article 24 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child of 1989 give people the right to have their lives protected. Failing this, the state would have been committing a human rights’ violation.

The smog issue is regional and cities across South Asia are consistently reporting ‘unhealthy’ or ‘hazardous’ air quality levels.

For example in Delhi air quality monitors have even given a reading of 999.

Apart from Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and other cities in Punjab also show signs of worsening air quality.

The most vulnerable sections of society are the low income workers, such as labourers, construction workers and farmhands, as well as women, the elderly, children and those who are already suffering from such diseases.

Marginalised groups are particularly vulnerable as the nature of their work forces them to be exposed to hazardous air throughout the day.

The fact that health care is not easily affordable to all means that only those who can afford it will be able to access health care and other preventative measures, while the others suffer in silence.

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2019