Smog a gigantic problem

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Amna Malik

Lahore, one of the country’s wealthiest cities and once known as the “city of gardens,” has been struggling to regulate air pollution. It is now considered one of the world’s most polluted cities. Dangerous levels of air contamination have forced many of Lahore’s residents to stay at home, with some residents taking to social media, tweeting, “Lahore you’re killing me.”

Pakistan’s second-largest city Lahore suffers from high levels of air pollution, with the city regularly ranking at the top of IQAir AirVisual’s live pollution rankings of major global cities. However, pollution only rose to the top of the public’s consciousness in early 2017, when actionable air quality data was published for the first time in Pakistan. In the absence of publicly available government data, a network of citizen-operated sensors began to monitor fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5, and report data in real-time. The data laid bare Lahore’s high levels of air pollution, shocking the public and becoming a media talking point.

The resulting publicity led to a public interest petition to review the government’s response to the smog crisis, which was heard at Lahore’s High Court in November 2017. The court ordered authorities to prepare an updated smog response action plan, and publish daily pollution updates until able to publish hourly updates, as the non-government monitors do.

Multiple factors such as smoke from brick kilns, burning of stubs of crops, smoke emitting vehicles, factory emissions, burning of rice stubble and garbage and large-scale losses of trees as the expanding city makes way for new roads and buildings have given impetus to smog currently.

In addition, the crop burning in India was the main source of smog in Lahore, as Lahore is some 20km from India’s border, so could easily be affected by smoke from across the border.

Besides, the number of fires on the Indian side this year does appear to be higher than last year, despite efforts to restrict the practice. India’s Punjab state government figures show there were 42,676 fires between 23 September and 6 November – more than during the entire season in both in 2018 and 2017.

Environmental issues in Punjab are not only affecting routine life but also causing respiratory diseases, complain of headaches and burning eyes and throats.

As of November 2019, Pakistani authorities still don’t publish any real-time PM2.5 air quality data. All data come from non-government sensors and the U.S. State Department. In November 2019, during the heart of Pakistan’s “smog season”, Lahore regularly came second only to Delhi – and sometimes overtook the Indian city – as the world’s most polluted city on IQAir AirVisual’s live rankings of major global cities.

Rights groups called on Lahore to take “urgent action” to prevent a thick smog further engulfing the city of more than 10 million people.

Amnesty International also urges global support for a campaign on behalf of residents in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab city of Lahore where a thick smog continues to loom over the region.

Keeping the sensitivity of the issue, Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Lahore announced a plan of action to curb and reduce the impact of air pollution.

“We have decided to import a more clean environmental friendly fuel, which will meet the Euro 4 standard,” PM Imran said. By the end of 2020, he added, Pakistan will shift to the Euro 5 emission standard, which will have a 90 per cent impact on air quality.

Oil refineries would be given three years to improve their fuel quality, else they will be forced to shut down, besides shifting the focus of the auto industry towards electric vehicles.  It was decided that the buses that run across our cities will either be hybrid vehicles or electric.

Government took a significant decisions to curb the menace of smog which posses a constant threat to lives of the city; hence it was urgent to take some solid steps to deal with the problem.

The government chalked out a comprehensive plan to address the issue of smog effectively if the plan is executed in its true spirit.

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