White Star
White Star

LAHORE: The smog phenomenon, which normally descends in Lahore and Punjab in the first week of November seems to have started three weeks early this year due to developmental activity and T-20 cricket tournament blocking roads and prolonged summer helping early maturity of rice crop and stubble burning in the province.

According to environment department officials, three major arteries in the city are blocked by development projects. Ferozepur Road is blocked due to construction work at Ghulab Devi Hospital, Sheranwala Gate Overhead Bridge blocking circular road and Shahkam Chowk Flyover causing massive vehicular blockage and pollution.

Moreover, the T-20 Cricket Tournament caused hours-long traffic jams and coincided with the onset of first smog spell over the city. The third contributing factor is the prolonged summer spell that led to early rice maturity and stubble burning in the province, bringing smog spell early.

“Only three pollutants – industries, brick kiln and cottage industry – fall under the environment department,” says an official of the department.

Vehicles, which cause 43 per cent of pollution, fall under the transport department and stubble burning under the agriculture department. There are some coordination issues, which worsen the situation. To make the situation more complex, smog is a 24-hour phenomenon that requires 24-hour coordination and control during the entire season. If this coordination collapses even for a few hours, impact may last for days. This is what worsened the situation this year, he says.

On Monday, the department said Air Quality Index (AQI) was hovering at 121. Some international bodies that measure Lahore Air Quality Index placed it at 156 – a hazardous limit, which requires wearing of masks and limiting outside activity.

The department, however, thought that the situation can be considered normal as long as it is under 200 mark.

Explaining background of the issue, an employee of the department says that the trouble started in 2017, when smog descended on Nov 6. Next year, it started on Nov 2 and Nov 6 in 2019. In 2020, traffic reduction because of Covid delayed the phenomenon to January. However, this year it has arrived early and air quality started deteriorating from mid-October.

On Oct 15, the AQI hit 178, to 181 next day, to 194 on Sunday and 153 on Monday as some parts of the city received rain and 7.4 kilometre winds cleared the city environment to some extent. However, the season has started and is set to worsen in the next 10 days when the remaining rice crop is harvested and stubble burning picks pace.

“This stubble burning is a trans-boundary phenomenon and can only be controlled through a regional approach,” he says. Even if Pakistan brings its industrial and vehicle pollution to zero, smog would still happen because wind direction changes in November and carries pollution from India to Pakistan,” he concludes.

A spokesman says the department has recently notified district anti-smog committees all over Punjab under deputy commissioners during the current year. These committees will carry out all necessary preventive measures before and during the smog incidence, in addition to regular reporting to the anti-smog unit of EPD Punjab on a weekly basis.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2021

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