BAHAWALPUR: The worst fears about poor air quality index (AQI) of Bahawalpur have been confirmed by a study.

A report on the issue has been submitted to Higher Education Department’s South Punjab (SP) Secretary Dr Ehtasham Anwar Mahar by the Islamia University of Bahawalpur (IUB).

Dawn learnt that the report of the special committee formed during the winter season on the initiative of the HED secretary has corroborated the findings of the international monitoring agencies during previous months that ranked Bahawalpur second only to Lahore as the most polluted city of Pakistan on air quality index (AQI).

Dr Mahar told Dawn that that there was a perception that the data or the method of its collection and analysis by the international agencies could be erroneous as none of the factors such as over-population, vehicular traffic, industrial emissions, certain agricultural practices, which worsen the air quality, were absent in case of Bahawalpur. He said it was argued that on these parameters many other cities of the country should have been far more polluted than Bahawalpur.

Dr Mahar added that while AQI up to 50 was considered satisfactory, Bahawalpur’s had been found to average around 150-200 on most of the days during previous months. It was said that such a high level of AQI put the general public, especially the vulnerable groups such as the sick and the elderly, at the risk of contracting respiratory, cardiac and other diseases.

The secretary said the poor air quality was a matter of life and death for the citizens. It was therefore decided that a formal research would be undertaken and the task was assigned to the IUB. Accordingly, Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Athar Mahboob had constituted a five-member committee chaired by Dr Ghulam Hassan Abbasi, director Institute of Agro-Industry and Environment, to study the phenomenon of poor air quality of the city.

According to the secretary, the findings show that the levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen are within the normal limits but the concentration of particulate matter has been found to be dangerously high. Unfortunately, he added, the source of this particulate matter could not be identified as there was no facility available in the country to analyse its nature.

He said the equipment for its collection would be purchased by the university before the next winter season.

Asked why the HED South Punjab had taken upon itself to do the job when other government departments were not active, the secretary said the universities in south Punjab were being repositioned to act like think tanks on the pattern of developed countries. In future, he said, the universities would undertake necessary research and development in social, economic and other issues being faced by the general public and guide the decision-makers for appropriate policy formulation.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2022

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