Know what you are breathing, because the govt doesn’t

Published December 6, 2022
Heavy smog conditions are pictured in Karachi on November 14, 2018. — AFP
Heavy smog conditions are pictured in Karachi on November 14, 2018. — AFP

• Most air quality monitors installed by govt are not in use or dysfunctional
• Data from independent observers declares Karachi’s air unhealthy

KARACHI: While the air pollution levels in the city are getting extremely high, unhealthy and dangerous as shown by air quality monitors installed by different private organisations and the US Consulate General in Karachi, authorities responsible for adopting preventive measures appear to be in the deep slumber as most of government-installed air quality monitors, equipment and apparatus are either dysfunctional, outdated or not being utilised at all, it emerged on Monday.

With the start of the current month, the level of air pollution in Karachi has been declared as ‘unhealthy’. According to iqair.com, a website that tracks air quality around the world, the city’s air quality index (AQI) reading, or the level of air pollution, was 186 on Friday, 173 on Saturday, 183 on Sunday and 151 on Monday.

Dr Sardar Sarfaraz of the Met Office told Dawn that the department got no network available across the country, including Karachi, to check the air quality and pollution levels.

The website also cautioned that the Particulate Matter 2.5 concentration in Karachi was earlier this week 13.4 times the WHO’s annual air quality guideline value.

Independent experts said the environmental pollution in the metropolis was as bad as of Lahore, which had thrice remained most polluted city in the world in a month.

Responding to Dawn queries, Sophia Hasnain, chief executive officer of the M/s LinkedThings.air, which is a private organisation working on air pollution monitoring in the country’s three major cities, said: “Suffice to say is that the situation of air pollution in Karachi is really very bad”.

Her organisation has installed air quality monitors at around 20 key locations in Karachi.

“The results that these air quality monitors are showing on a daily basis are self-explanatory,” she added, sounding concern on the worsening quality of the air.

Dysfunctional monitors

As precautionary measures, the air quality monitor website iqair.com has advised citizens to use face masks while the sensitive groups should reduce outdoor exercise.

However, the government departments concerned appeared either ignorant or least bothered towards the current situation of the air quality, which the experts believed had turned ‘very unhealthy’ particularly with the onset of winter.

An independent environmental expert, who did not wish to be named, told Dawn that seven air quality monitors had been installed by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) in summer (July-August) this year at different locations in the city, but their data was going wasted since none of the relevant departments were properly monitoring in order to take pre-emptive measures.

Requesting anonymity, an official told Dawn that the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) itself had installed two air quality monitors — one each at the rooftops of the buildings of the Sepa office in Korangi and deputy commissioner central’s office — but both were lying dysfunctional for the last three years, thus were of no use.

However, when asked if Sepa was using data being collected by the private firms in order to monitor air pollution levels to chalk out an action plan, the official said that the under the provisions of the Sindh Environmental Protection Act, 2014 the authority would only generate the data itself and not use or rely upon any other source for this purpose.

Talking to Dawn, Sepa director general Muhammad Naeem Mughal admitted that the air pollution levels across the metropolis were far beyond the WHO guidelines of 25 microgram and the USA’s 35 microgram.

“There is not a single locality in Karachi that meets the WHO guidelines on the air pollution,” conceded Mr Mughal. “In the congested and thickly populated localities like Liquatabad or Saddar the air pollution level exceeded from 150MG to 200MG,” he added.

The Sepa chief also admitted that the two air pollution monitors installed by the authority were lying dysfunctional because they had become outdated despite regular maintenance. He maintained that at the moment their repair would cost a staggering Rs100 million, yet these monitors would remain functional for hardly six month.

He also appeared ignorant about the existence of seven air pollution monitors installed by the KMC in the city, when asked if they were using these monitors in lieu of their own that were lying dysfunctional.

Asked if they could use the data collected by private firms, Mr Mughal out-rightly stated that some people were using ‘unauthentic data for the purpose of blackmailing’, but did not explain as to how the agency was being blackmailed.

Sepa plans detailed survey

He maintained that a detailed survey of the air pollution levels at 100 locations across the city had been planned, adding that once the data was collected, the future action plan would be devised in collaboration with relevant departments.

However, he opined that the vehicular traffic was among main sources of increasing air pollution.

He added that different land owning agencies — including cantonment boards, the Defence Housing Authority and other agencies — had been communicated with regard to devising a traffic management plan after which preventive measures would be taken.

But, he admitted that the land owning agencies like cantonments and DHA did not cooperate with them in this regard.

Asked as to how they will run the massive campaign with dysfunctional equipment, Mr Mughal said they were going to procure new monitors, each costing around Rs500,000, in sufficient quantity ‘very shortly’ to take the preventive measures.

In the meanwhile, the data recorded by the air pollution monitors by the M/s LinkedThings.air suggested that last week the air pollution at the KMC Building was recorded at 404 and Frere Hall at 309 — suggesting both localities had hazardous air quality.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

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