Deadly air

Published December 5, 2021
The writer is an author and entrepreneur.
The writer is an author and entrepreneur.

THERE is no honour and no glory for residents of a city, and less so for its leaders, if the city is recognised the world over for the suffering it brings to its people.

Lahore is among the worst cities in the world in terms of its air quality according to international rankings, adding to the vexations of its residents in pursuing what Aristotle deemed the ultimate goal of life, ie ‘eudaimonia’, a state of good spirit and welfare.

Air in Lahore is toxic. Toxic is the air its residents suffer every single moment of their existence because of unwise policy decisions that had little regard for their well-being. Is health a chief concern of those in charge? There has been one calamity after another. Covid is still not over and dengue fever and smog are causing havoc. Never before was health in such peril, never before did such hazards loom over my city.

Read more: Lahore again shows worst air quality

Smog is a consequence of decisions made over time by various governments, not just this one. And the consequences of decisions are bad if you make them for your own popularity instead of with the highest regard for the well-being of the people. If our unhealthy environment does not reflect a disregard for the well-being of people, then what name should I give it? Tell me. I am at a loss.

Even the initial response to this calamity of smog was embarrassing and lacked empathy. Instead of coming up with measures to minimise the damage, the initial response was inaction. This inaction is an inexplicable sloth; it has led to continuous suffering (both mental and physical). How does one justify it? It makes one think.

What is excellent governance? If it is making laws, then no law is helping us when all lives are at risk. If it is making plans of unparalleled wisdom for everyone’s well-being, then no such plans are helpful at the present time. Excellent governance puts the well-being of its people at the forefront — in fact, it puts it on top of all other priorities.

And what is excellent political opposition? If it is about political manoeuvring, then no such manoeuvring is protecting us from risks. If it is about making allies, then no allyship is healing the people. If it is about holding the government accountable, then no accountability at the present time is preventing people from facing bad health.

Many factors, not just one, led to this unhealthy environment for the people, for example, the romance of our leaders with car-friendly policies. According to an online environmental-cost calculator, we emit 0.54 kilograms of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by driving 2.4 kilometres.

Many people I know drive thousands of kilometres yearly. Multiplying that by millions of cars, in the absence of good public transport, we likely are releasing millions of kilos of carbon every year. To what end? Add to this the cost of health, it makes one wonder how can it be worth it.

Also read: 'We thought he had Covid but it was smog': Life in polluted Lahore

In the name of growth, we allowed the expansion of car-friendly cities and environmentally unfriendly industries. This led to unlivable cities; all that growth ultimately came at the cost of human suffering. And what of that growth?

For often we as a nation are beggars, not lenders. One wonders, is it not odd that those with the most resources played a significant part in polluting the environment and they are suffering the least because of their resources? While those with the fewest resources, though they caused the least damage to the environment, suffer the most and shall continue to do so?

Our country struggles with raising its revenue and those who govern come up with one scheme after another to address this. But when an unhealthy family cannot raise revenues for itself then how can an unhealthy city or an unhealthy country raise revenue? No sick person can raise revenues for a family, no sick family can increase the revenue of a state, no sick nation can secure wealth.

According to research published in the prestigious journal Lancet in 2019, 1.7 million Indians died from the effects of pollution alone and the cost to India in lost productivity was $36.8 billion, in addition to the $11.9bn spent on treating those ill from pollution. I doubt if such costs are low in our country.

This pollution not only kills people, it also costs the nation money. You end up losing money instead of raising your revenues if you make people sick.

To be practical, and given how very slowly the government sometimes acts for the well-being of the people, all smoke-blowing cars and factories cannot vanish overnight. But if we prioritise the well-being of citizens today, our children will do better tomorrow. Our leaders need our citizens but they should also love them. Needing them, leaders extend their own powers; loving them, leaders keep them healthy and alive. The latter should then come before the former. The well-being of citizens should be the chief concern of those at the top.

The writer is an author and entrepreneur.

Twitter: @wyounas

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2021



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