Lockdown improves quality of air over capital

Published April 3, 2020
General view of the deserted Grand Faisal Mosque on March 22 amid concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus.  — AFP/File
General view of the deserted Grand Faisal Mosque on March 22 amid concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Something significant and unintended has happened during the lockdown - air over the capital city is the cleanest in many years and the skies are bluer, said Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA).

Particulate matter is down to 25 micro-grams per cubic metre, much lower than World Health Organisation (WHO) and Ambient Air Quality standards of Pak-EPA, which is 35 micro-grams per cubic metre.

“We have seen good quality air days before but you can feel the fresher breath of air more than ever in Islamabad. It only goes to show the major impact human activities have on the climate of our city,” Pak-EPA Director General Farzana Altaf Shah told Dawn on Thursday.

The decline in industrial activities, construction, solid waste burning and above all lesser traffic on roads have significantly improved the quality air.

“Vehicular traffic, especially emissions from diesel trucks, is a major contributor to air pollution - almost 43pc. There is some movement such as trucks bringing in supplies to the fruit and vegetable market and some to market places. Other than that, all unnecessary movement has halted. This brief period of cleaner air should send a message for people to push for long-term changes,” said Ms Shah.

She said Islamabad had some of the highest population and vehicular growth rates, each household with a minimum two cars, in the absence of a good public transportation system.

“This is why every citizen needs to play a role in keeping the environment clean by changing their exorbitant living habits,” she said.

The second major contributor to air pollution in Islamabad is solid waste burning which is also on a decline.

“I have been out driving to check the trend and have not seen anywhere solid waste burning alongside roads. Solid waste burning is so common here and a major environmental hazard. It only shows that people are not generating extra waste. They are buying only necessary items and hence less trash. There is a lot to take away from this also. If people wish they can generate less waste and keep their environment cleaner and healthier,” she said.

According to an environmentalist in the Ministry of Climate Change, Mother Nature will always bat last.

“Global warming is going to have devastating impacts particularly in our country in the future if we do not get Mother Nature on our side. Let’s not double down on habits that make us sick.”

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2020

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