From Abid Usman
LAHORE: With the advent of every winter, plain areas of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces are hit by massive smog often reducing visibility to zero and resulting in accidents and sometimes in loss of human lives.
This phenomenon has both local and cross boundary effects as the smoke being emitted from across the border travel into Pakistan and this issue was first highlighted by experts some 15 years back.
However, the consecutive governments since then could not fully address the issue although they had started numerous programs to improve air quality and industrial and vehicular emission as well as burning of crops residue by farmers.
Simply taking Lahore, a couple of times during current season, it was recorded as the most polluted city.
Similarly, Delhi is also no exception to this phenomenon as it had also recorded the same volume of pollution or smog.
In December 2021, the air quality index (AQI) level dropped almost half to that of November 2021 reading at 370 in terms of suspended particulate matter. The general scientific studies show that every 10 µm/m3 increase in PM2.5 concentration is associated with a 10 per cent higher risk of death in vulnerable populations of mega cities, including patients of heart diseases.
The PM2.5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that has a diameter of less than 2.5 micro-meters, which is about 3pc the diameter of a human hair. Commonly written as PM2.5, particles in this category are so small that they can only be seen with a microscope.
Every winter accompanied by dry spell affects air quality in thickly populated urban areas, pushing the entire landscape into dense smog making the routine life suffer a lot.
According to health experts, continued smog had caused health risks like it is done by poor sanitation, unsafe drinking water and smoking thus affecting life expectancy.
“If a heart patient lives in an area with an average PM2.5 concentration of 15µm/m3 and moves to an area with an average concentration of 25µm/m3, his premature death risk increases by 10 percent,” said Dr Zeeshan Ali, a senior pulmonologist at Jinnah Hospital Lahore.
“This phenomenon needs continued monitoring and strict measure to ensure better environment and health for the people,” he added.
World Health Organization (WHO) in its recent report declared breathing air quality as essential for people’s health as 90 percent of the world population was living in residential zones where poor air quality had exceeded permissible limits.
United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur David R. Boyd has also stressed that Covid-19 pandemic had highlighted the importance of having a clean, safe and sustainable natural environment by ensuring mitigation in eco-degradation.
Fully alive to the situation, the Federal and Punjab governments stepped forward for tightening noose around those adding to pollution and introduced policy and regulatory measures to control air pollution. Recent widespread rain spell in the country also provided relief to the masses.
Ahmad Rafay Alam, an environment expert says that Pakistan Clean Air Network was first introduced in 2005 to improve air quality. Thereafter, revised plans were introduced in 2020 and 2021.
“We have good laws but it is matter of awareness of implementation. Therefore, all stakeholders must play their role in educating people and ensure implementation on environmental laws,” he said.
The Punjab government’s Environmental Protection Department issued a policy on controlling smog in 2017.
It imposed complete ban on open burning of rice stubble, solid waste and other hazardous materials. Steel furnaces and other industrial units working without emission control equipment or using sub-standard fuels were to be shutdown by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Alam said the Punjab Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) had also banned all activities that could intensify smog due to climate change, including vehicular and industrial emission and particularly residual crop burning.
The Punjab Local Government Act, 2019 was also enacted which directs municipal authorities and waste management companies to ensure water sprinkling on roads, streets and construction sites producing dust.
The government also notified district anti-smog committees under deputy commissioners for preventive measures.
Meanwhile, the Spokesperson of Lahore District Government said that the government policy and regulatory mechanism was implemented strictly and heavy fines were being imposed on violators. “All the departments concerning to environment were fully operative to cope with this situation.”
The federal government had announced a five-pronged strategy to tackle smog, including urban forestry, installing smog filtration towers, regulating automobile and industrial emissions, limiting thermal power plants, and preventing stubble burning. The smog and air filtration towers played an effective role in removing hazardous air particles and pollutants.
Dr Mehmood Khalid Qamar, a noted environmentalist said it is necessary for Pakistan to learn from experiences of the other countries in controlling smog and air pollution. “It is high time to revise our national standards for emissions and ensure compliance of laws in line with prevailing international standards.”
He underlined the need for ensuring inter-departmental and regional cooperation in air pollution mitigation strategies and lauded role of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government for giving environmental issues a top priority.
From Abid Usman