LAHORE: A drop in temperature, perceptible layer of smog enveloping the city and the air quality index (AQI), according to the Punjab government, rising to 157 (world bodies, however, put it at 214) has set alarm bells ringing among the citizens.
Smog levels in the city rise during October and November when Lahore’s AQI is ranked second only to New Delhi — the most polluted city in the world — with sometimes leaving it behind as well, creating massive health issues for the dwellers.
Crop stubble burning, which continues in the province despite a ban, is normally blamed for the phenomenon since it first appeared in 2018. Agriculture managers, however, deny the allegation, saying that local crop burning, according to official statistics, contributes only eight per cent to the smog, 12pc comes from Indian stubble burning, 43pc is caused by traffic pollution, 25pc by the industries and 20pc from the litter burning.
“Going by these official figures, how much can crop burning be blamed?” wonders Dr Anjum Ali Buttar, director general (extension) of the agriculture department.
Punjab produces basmati rice, which is harvested in November when dew — a natural check on burning and smoke — is heavy. This is not to deny the role of stubble burning in smog, but only explains its limits, he says.
According to official figures, Punjab has so far lodged over 70 first information reports against farmers for crop burning, as harvesting of rice (coarse varieties) picks up pace and is set to accelerate as smog is expected to thicken in the days to come.
The potential threat also activated the Punjab government on Wednesday, which promised all possible measures to check the menace. Board of Revenue Senior Member Baber Hayat Tarar accompanied by Environment Secretary Zahid Hussain and Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) Director General Khurram Umar Shahzad addressed a press conference and listed actions that the provincial government plans to take.
“Strict actions have been initiated against the factors causing smog and district governments and five departments inducted to control the phenomenon. Furthermore, the PDMA has been increasing capacity of the allied departments to control smog,” Mr Tarar said.
The Punjab government, he said, has launched a crackdown on smoke-emitting vehicles besides reducing the vehicles plying on roads. Planning was under way to reduce the number of transport vehicles in public sector educational institutions. Brick kilns using the old technology will be closed from Nov 7 to Dec 31 and the duration could be increased if needed, he added.
Khurram Shahzad, talking to Dawn, claimed that more detailed actions will be made public in the next few days. The technical wing of the authority was working out how school timings could be staggered to reduce or regulate vehicles — a major pollutant — on roads. Some long- and short-time measures are being chalked out to control smog permanently, he remarked.
The Lahore AQI is almost a constant problem, which appears and disappears with fluctuation in temperature.
“That is why we need to work on all factors contributing to it,” he claimed.
Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2020