Fatal air

Published June 25, 2024

TOXIC air can cost us our children. It causes life-threatening illnesses, inflicts lifelong damage and leads to early death. A recent report by HEI and IHME — organisations focusing on health research — in collaboration with Unicef, states that, globally, almost 2,000 children succumb to air pollution-related health complications every day. Shockingly, in 2021, 8.1m people worldwide died due to bad air — which was 12pc of the overall death toll, making air pollution the second leading risk factor for premature death after high blood pressure. More depressing is the fact that over 700,000 children under five years died of bad air — over 500,000 of them due to fumes released from burning coal, wood or dung in indoor cooking, a practice also prevalent in Pakistan’s poor and rural households. While the responsibility of air quality supervision lies with the provincial governments, the federal government must develop a clean air regulatory policy and ensure that all provinces see it through. Unfortunately, WHO’s observation — “air pollution in Pakistan is having a devastating impact on people’s health” — and the Air Quality Life Index showing that air pollution cuts life expectancy in the country by 3.9 years (seven years in Lahore) does not perturb officialdom.

We face a potential health catastrophe, and cosmetic measures will not do. Every factor that keeps our young from breathing easy must be addressed through information about the need for a healthy environment indoors, with ventilated cooking areas and clean chimneys, as well as by providing free masks to poor homes and commuters. Educational institutions should demonstrate greater responsibility with pollution-free classrooms and recreational areas, smoking bans, and minimal traffic around the premises. On the community level, awareness regarding the necessity of leafy and hygienic neighbourhoods is imperative. Moreover, lawmakers must criminalise tree felling, impound smoke-spitting vehicles and ensure proper waste management. In short, clean air must become a priority.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2024

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