Hazy Lahore declared most polluted city in the world

Published November 2, 2021
Lahore: Smog that engulfs the city throughout the day on Monday thickens at sunset. — White Star
Lahore: Smog that engulfs the city throughout the day on Monday thickens at sunset. — White Star

LAHORE: The provincial capital was on Monday declared the most polluted city in the world, leaving its traditional rival New Delhi far behind: the official air quality index (AQI) of Lahore was reported at 289 (as per the average between 9am and 5pm) and international monitoring bodies put the score at 397.

New Delhi stood at less than half of Lahore’s pollution level, with 187.

Individual areas of Lahore fared worse, with Kot Lakhpat (industrial area) crossing over 500, Fatehgarh housing most of the steel melting industry close to 400 and relatively green areas like Raiwind at 403 AQI.

“At 397 AQI, [or particulate matter (PM) 2.5], the pollution concentration is 34.8 times higher than the annual air quality value set by the World Health Organisation. This is, what environmentalists call, hazardous with it getting ‘extremely hazardous’ at individual points,” explains Abdul Rauf, representing an organisation working on air quality of the city.

Pulmonologist advises people to wear masks while going out

“What makes the matter dangerous is that it was not smog on Monday, it was pure pollution,” claims an official of the environment department.

Smog occurs when smoke mixes with fog. On Monday, the humidity level in the city was 60 per cent — and such a level does not form fog. Monday’s mist did not cause any eye irritation, which also proves it was not smog. This means that this haze was pure pollution.

“Secondly, and what is extremely worrying as well, is the fact that it is purely indigenous. The country is still experiencing westerly winds, which means the wind is flowing towards India and pollution from that side of the border has still not invaded Pakistan. Once the wind changes its direction and carries Indian pollution (mainly smoke emanating from stubble burning) into Pakistan, the situation here would certainly worsen,” the official says.

There is very little the department can do to control the situation, except for dealing with the “hot spots” of pollution, the official continues. The industrial areas and their operations are under the microscope now. The department has already instructed its field force to concentrate on the industrial operations, especially during the night. Normally, the industry, especially in northern Lahore, uses substandard and highly polluting fuels during the night, he maintains.

The Meteorological department forecast does not provide any relief either, as it predicts dry weather for the next 48 hours and does not see any rain (atmospheric cleanser) during the next few days.

On Monday, the wind speed, which normally carries away pollution, was only up to five knots, leaving pollutants suspended in the Lahore air. A Met official said temperatures and mist would hold the same pattern for the next 24 hours.

Dr Nadeem Ahmad, a pulmonologist, advises people to wear masks while stepping out of the house. Even homes need air purifiers now because the fine particles can invade lungs and even blood, let alone rooms. People with pre-existing conditions (like asthma) need to avoid going out and save themselves from this pollution as much as they can, he warns.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2021

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