BREATHING the Lahore air is not without its risks. At a time when people are already grappling with the coronavirus that has continued into the flu season, the mist that is settling in has added to respiratory hazards. The air quality index in the city rose to 214 on Wednesday, indicating that the annual smog is on its way back to debilitate and disrupt. October marks the start of the period when the fall in temperature makes this ‘dusty’ sheet visible in the Punjab capital and some other parts of the adjoining plains up to Delhi. Otherwise, the air quality is bad the entire year and the presence of a relatively thinner smog layer this time, probably because of less activity in the preceding months on account of pandemic-related shutdowns, doesn’t ease apprehensions. Fears are that as the mercury goes down, the dirty blanket could get thicker. There has been plenty of nervous activity on display and an attempt is being made to take preventive measures. This won’t lead to a remedy since the cause of the smog is still by and large unrecognised.
The blame has been put on the poor and vulnerable country cousins who have been accused of releasing plumes of pollution into the atmosphere during stubble burning while preparing the fields for the next crop. Their contribution to the pollution ranks much lower than that of their urban counterparts who are forever in a hurry to go somewhere. The main contributors include industry, our power-making units and worst of them all, the transport sector. These have been listed in smog studies carried out or aided by groups such as the FAO and World Bank. This is exactly why any talk about controlling the traffic on Lahore roads, about finally switching over to petrol and substituting furnace oil with natural gas wherever possible generates so much interest among those who know and care. The change will hopefully come, but first, there has to be a better, long-term plan in place.
Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2020