— White Star
— White Star

It’s that time of the year when clouds of haze blanket Lahore and the city follows an unusual annual ‘ritual’ of sorts, creating records for being the most polluted place in the world. A record the city’s dwellers wish it didn’t have to make.

Lahore has been topping the list of most polluted cities in the world or featuring in the top five over the past few weeks with its air quality level hovering much over 200, in the ‘Unhealthy’ or ‘Very Unhealthy’ category – the air quality index on Friday night was 278 (Very Unhealthy). However, authorities claim the smog levels and duration of the phenomenon this year have been far less owing to the measures they took way ahead of the scheduled onset of the polluted air, owing to which emission contribution by the industry and brick kilns has been reduced by ‘almost half’.

Environment Protection Department Director Naseemur Rehman told Dawn that back in May they had started engaging the industry and brick kilns of Punjab, as the other two major contributors to smog – vehicle emissions and stubble burning – were under the transport department and traffic police, and the agriculture department, respectively.

“The industry contributes 25 per cent to smog and brick kilns 9pc. Under our Smog Action Plan, we formed nine squads in Lahore as well as in other cities and started engaging the industry ahead of time. We told them to functionalise their emission control systems and install them if they hadn’t already. We shut the industrial units that didn’t have the systems and they won’t be allowed to open till they comply with the guidelines. It’s another thing if they move court and get stay orders. The kilns not operating on zigzag technology have been shut,” he explained.

He further claimed that besides the internal factors, there were some external factors that contributed to smog. “This is also the time of the year when stubble is burnt extensively on both sides of the border. Normally in November, wind direction changes from India to Pakistan, but over the years we have had smog in November also, and last year it prolonged from mid-October to February, as no measures were taken,” Mr Rehman said.

However, environmental experts maintain the measures taken by successive governments in the last few years to control this phenomenon have “spectacularly failed”.

“The action against stubble burning, shutting down and converting brick kilns to zigzag technology and action against the steel industry, creating anti-smog squads, have all singularly and spectacularly failed to achieve any of the goals. They are the result of ineptitude, lack of coordination and denial,” environmental lawyer and activist Ahmad Rafay Alam told Dawn.

He feels the authorities need to invest in air quality monitors for Punjab for accurate measurement and apportion the sources of that air pollution. “There has been research over 20 years that has consistently said the main cause of air pollution all over is the transport sector and the filthy fuels and old engines we use, and the emissions from energy and industrial sectors – the three sectors that need to be controlled.”

Some of the measures he suggests to contain air pollution are the need to upgrade the quality of fuel from Euro 2 to 4, ensure its availability throughout the province, upgrade vehicle-testing systems and make them far more robust, invest in renewable energies, move away from diesel-fired generators in cities, and change industrial sources of pollution into more energy efficient emissions.

Mr Alam blamed the successive governments for not focusing on any of these suggestions and failing to accept the problem and understand it. Last year, he said, the then information minister Fawad Chaudhry blamed air pollution on flawed development policies of the PML-N government. The PM’s special adviser on climate change blamed stubble burning on India, which was “manifestly untrue and against laws of nature”, and the Punjab environment minister denied the problem and asked the FIA to take legal action against people who had installed private monitors, alleging they were miscreants trying to ruin the name of Pakistan.

However, medical practitioners appear to agree with the fact that there was a reduction in the duration and severity of smog than previous years, which they gauge from the decrease in patients with smog-related ailments.

Dr Osama Zia, a medical officer at the emergency department of a government teaching health facility here, estimated at least a 35pc fall in patients with breathing problems or eye infections.

“Smog affects both healthy and the medically compromised people, and both reported less numbers this year. If you look at the AQI in recent days, it’d give a low reading, but one would still feel irritation in the eyes or get a sore throat, but the intensity and duration of these illnesses was low. As compared to the previous years, the air was less toxic and smelled less pungent this time around. The severe phase of smog also didn’t last long,” he told Dawn.

On how the public could minimise the impacts of smog, Dr Zia suggested for that the government and relevant institutions needed to raise awareness among people, which was incredibly lacking, about the toxicity of smog, especially for the medically compromised and vulnerable, as soon as the season starts. “People also need to reduce their exposure to smoggy air, wear a mask and only get out if very necessary,” he suggested.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2022

Opinion

Editorial

A grave tragedy
Updated 08 Feb, 2023

A grave tragedy

It is hoped that Pakistan continues to send as many personnel and relief goods as needed to Turkiye, Syria.
Pharma shutdown
08 Feb, 2023

Pharma shutdown

IN the midst of an economic and political maelstrom, a fresh crisis threatens the availability of drugs in the...
PSL season
Updated 08 Feb, 2023

PSL season

PSL has provided a launching pad for several of the team’s current stars, and for them, hitting top form will be key.
No pardon for rape
Updated 07 Feb, 2023

No pardon for rape

Cultural filters and biases can often lead to faulty applications of the law.
Health insurance
07 Feb, 2023

Health insurance

THE planning ministry is reported to have raised objections to Punjab’s flagship universal health coverage...
The people’s demands
07 Feb, 2023

The people’s demands

AS the people of KP are literally on the frontline of the battle against terrorism and violent extremism, they are...