LAHORE: Environmental lawyer Ahmed Rafay Alam says the air pollution in Lahore is the result of the flawed development policies.

“The sprawling urbanisation around the city in the form of new housing societies has led to huge distances covered by our cars that use petrol of the lowest quality in the whole world. Air pollution comes from smoke from vehicles, diesel generators and furnace oil in power plants and carbon produced from the industry besides indoor cooking and the barbecues at the commercial level in the city,” he said while replying to the question of novelist Osama Siddique who was moderating a session on “Pakistan’s deep air quality crisis: next steps and imperatives’ on the final day of the Pakistan Literature Festival (PLF) at the Alhamra Art Centre on Sunday.

Osama said: “we are living in a dying city as Lahore is considered one of the most polluted cities of the world. Anybody living in Lahore experiences pollution firsthand every year as the month of November starts and the people begin getting sick. Pollution has a huge human cost besides its effect on the quality of life”.

Human rights lawyer Aaminah Qadir said Lahore’s development had been random and uncontrolled. “From 1972 till 2009, there had been a 68pc increase in the urban land around Lahore. At the same time, 32500 hectares of agriculture has been lost. Every year, we convert 1200 hectares of agriculture and forest land into urban areas.”

She said the urban planners were not ensuring sustainable development along with expansion of cities as was seen in the Ravi urban development project, which lacked sustainable planning.

“Lahore has 11m people and high sulfur fuel is used here. Highest pollutants are industry, agriculture and vehicles.”

According to a study by the University of Chicago, the life span of every citizen of Lahore has been reduced by 2.5 years, which will have a massive effect on the GDP, she said.

Talking of the composition of air pollution, Dr Khurram Bhatti, a professor at the Information Technology University, said the most popular measure of air pollution was pm (particulate matter), measured in two ways– pm2.5 and pm10.

“According to scientific data there are roughly six air pollutants that contribute to air pollution, including carbon, sulfur, nitrogen and lead besides pm,” he said and added that air pollution was not subject to fog as it’s always there but it would become more visible and more harmful in the winter season due to accumulation of fog.

Ahmed Ali Gull added to it by saying particulate matter (pm) had two kinds, pm2.5 meaning particles smaller than 2.5 micrometer and pm10 having particles smaller than 10 microns.

“Pm2.5 does not settle down quickly once suspended in the air and its process is very slow. In the winter months, we breathe the same toxic air. In the winter months, the pm gets trapped in a layer in the air and pm2.5, which can’t be stopped even by mucus, goes through the air passages in our body. It gets absorbed through our lungs and becomes a part of our blood stream which is extremely toxic for us,” he added.

Rafay Alam termed the curbs on brick kilns and stubble burning just an eyewash as the funds needed to upgrade refineries to euro 6 were not available here as it needed $5bn per refinery. “We don’t go for renewable energy,” he lamented.

Mr Bhatti painted a shocking picture of the air pollution monitoring in Lahore, saying that the number of government-sponsored air quality monitoring systems in the city was only six, including one mobile unit but they don’t monitor six pollutants but only measuring pm (particulate matter), hardly any of them measures sulfur and nitrogen. “A censor unit costs 4,000USD to 5,000USD. Lahore is larger than London by 200 sq km in terms of covered area. Lahore has 324 censors and Lahore requires at least 450 basic low quality measurement units but it has only 20 such units, including private ones,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2023

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