LAHORE: As Punjab’s capital still stands among the cities with worst air quality levels despite a state of environmental emergency in place since Dec 6, the Lahore High Court directed the education department on Tuesday to extend winter vacation in public and private schools across the city for another week.

After the court order, the vacation will continue till Jan 9 due to smog.

Justice Shahid Karim passed the order while hearing public interest petitions by Haroon Farooq and others on different environmental issues. The judge observed that the government was responsible for controlling smog, and summoned the Punjab Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) director general at the next hearing.

Previously, the judge also ordered the administration to ensure closure of markets and restaurants at 10pm as a measure to control smog.

On Tuesday, the average reading of Lah­ore on the Air Quality Index was measured 191 while Karachi ranked fifth on the list of cities having the worst air quality in the world.

Average AQI reading touches 191

The AQI is calculated on the basis of five categories of pollution: ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. An AQI rating as high as 151-200 is considered unhealthy, while one bet­ween 201 and 300 is more harmful and AQI over 300 is extremely hazardous.

According to experts, an increase in air pollution used to be recorded in the winter. A change in the wind speed, wind direction and sliding minimum temperature increases air pollution. Air becomes heavier in winter as compared to summer, causing poisonous particles in the atmosphere to move downwards and making the atmosphere polluted. As a result, a layer of polluted particles, including large amounts of carbon and smoke, covers an area.

The smoke produced by burning crop remnants, factories and burning coal, garbage, oil or tyres enters the atmosphere and the impact of this appears at the onset of winter and remains till the season’s end, experts said. The government had banned crop residue burning, shifting brick kilns to zigzag technology, raising anti-smog squads to check vehicular and industrial emissions and closing educational institutions, yet desired results are awaited.

The state of emergency declared by the authorities three weeks ago also could not do much good for the residents because almost all areas of the city remained under smog cover most of the time.

Smog towers

Punjab University Environmental Sciences Department Principal Prof Dr Sajid Rashid told Dawn that the government had imposed an environmental emergency in the city but failed to implement it. People were still burning waste in Lahore and setting fire to crops residue around the city whereas no measures were taken to stop them even after a ban had been imposed by the government, he added.

He said China had installed smog towers in the most polluted cities but Pakistan did not have equipment and money to install costly smog towers.

Mr Rashid explained that smog tower would clean the air and remove all the hazardous particles from it.

However, he said, due to paucity of fund, people in Punjab could only wait for rain to clear the air. He advised public to take precautionary measures on its own as they did not have any other resource to avoid smog.

Talking to Dawn, Punjab Environment Protection Department Director Nasimur Reman said R2 billion interest-free loans were proposed for the industry to install emission control systems in their factories, especially steel mills and furnace mills. Around 60 per cent of the brick kiln were shifted to ZigZag technology and the remaining would also be shifted in a year or two, he claimed.

He also claimed the air quality of the city had improved if one compared 2021 and 2022 air quality index. He said smog situation was controlled this year and it would be better next year.

Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2022

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