IF 2022 has taught us anything, it is that generations of reckless disregard for Mother Nature has accrued very steep costs for humanity. As soon as one calamity, the devastating monsoon rains of this year, receded, we have been visited by another. A pall of poisoned air is now slowly suffocating the city of Lahore, where authorities have been losing a years-long struggle to control environmental pollution. No amount of planning seems to have worked to make the city’s air at least nominally breathable for its residents, and ‘smog season’ has returned punctually with all its attendant miseries. From the very old and infirm to new-born infants and toddlers, everyone is breathing in toxic air that triggers an entire host of respiratory issues, shortens lifespans and generally makes life miserable.
The authorities have, as usual, little to offer other than the same measures they bandy every year: the announcement of an environmental emergency, ban on burning crop residue, push to shift brick kilns to zigzag technology, targeting vehicles visibly emitting smoke, and banning illegal construction activities. Meanwhile, schools have been ordered to remain shut three days a week from Friday to Sunday; private sector offices have been asked to follow suit and implement work-from-home policies. These pronouncements have done little good in the past, and it should be acknowledged that they have been a complete failure due to successive administrations’ inability to implement them. One need only consider the example of Beijing to see how far our authorities lag behind. Once a terribly polluted metropolis, the Chinese capital significantly overcame its smog problem over the last decade thanks to a concerted and wide-ranging plan to eliminate its biggest sources of pollution. Cleaner energy, relocation of pollution-causing industries, diversion of heavy traffic away from residential areas, encouraging the adoption of electric vehicles, and providing bicycles for shorter commutes formed the core of their effort. Intensive public engagement helped make those plans a reality. Such imagination and commitment are sadly lacking here at home.
Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022