Lahore's air quality touches ‘hazardous’ level

Published December 20, 2020
Labourers ride on a tractor along a street amid heavy smoggy conditions in Lahore on December 7. — AFP/File
Labourers ride on a tractor along a street amid heavy smoggy conditions in Lahore on December 7. — AFP/File

LAHORE: The city’s Air Quality Index (AQI) soared to an alarming level on Saturday with persisting cold weather and high air pollution.

Based on two air quality contributors, the highest recording of 615 AQI was reported near the US Consulate, which was termed ‘hazardous’ by the monitor.

Despite being sunny, Saturday’s overall air quality was dismal, but overall the entire week’s recordings showed unhealthy air quality levels that fell just below 200 and sometimes higher. Lahore as a whole (based on an aggregate of four monitors) was around 170, Multan 159, Bahawalpur 154, and Rawalpindi 154.

But, environmental activists point out that air pollution is discussed only when smog starts developing in the latter part of the year. They say it is a cause for serious concern and about time the government and public pay attention to it throughout the year.

Experts want extensive media coverage of air pollution

Lawyer and environmental activist Ahmed Rafay Alam highlighted that air quality reduced life expectancy in Pakistan, especially in cities, by an average of two years.

“In Lahore, life expectancy is cut short by five years,” he said. “This is just the outside air we breathe.”

According to the Pakistan Air Quality Initiative (PAQI), air pollution caused 59,241 deaths in Pakistan each year.

Recently, theNew York Timespublished a cover story about the issue of air quality – not restricted to smog only – in New Delhi and its web version contained videos and interactive maps as well.

Mr Alam believes that the issue is not highlighted regularly enough in the local news media unless there is an emergency. “Air quality has to be a national issue, not just a metropolitan or local one,” he said. “In Pakistan, newspapers (and electronic media) rarely carry air pollution stories. And if they do, they’re mostly reserved for the city section. Unless the media starts to take air quality seriously, Pakistanis simply won’t know about the poison they breathe.”

The LahoreAir twitter account – an official offshoot of PAQI -- reported that there was an “airpocalypse” on Saturday, with the AQI reporting a status of “beyond index”, while an average of 540 was recorded across the city.

“Temperatures, inversion, pressure, wind all matter when it comes to readings,” says Abid Omar, the founder of the community-driven PAQI. “The index is from 0 to 500. If you cross 500, you are ‘beyond index’. The people who created the indexes did not imagine that this could ever happen. Of note, above 300 is already hazardous, and that is the headline -- that we need to go beyond this index to actually take notice of it.”

Omar said the local media covers air pollution mostly when journalists notice the real-time AQI or the ranking of Lahore and Karachi in the top 10 polluted cities – but reporting really needed to focus on the impact of these hazardous levels on health, which hardly happens. “We have been trying to rope in doctors to try and talk about these issues, but with hardly any success,” he added.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2020

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