WHO estimates show that nine out of 10 people around the world breathe in air that exceeds the limits of pollutants set in its guidelines. Most of all, low- and middle-income countries such as Pakistan suffer the most as a result of what can only be described as toxic air. The WHO also estimates that around seven million people die every year due to air pollution worldwide. These estimates should serve as an eye-opener for environment managers around the world but more so in Pakistan where smog has also become a recurring challenge. Air pollution puts people at greater risk of lung damage and in many cases also serves as a trigger for reactivation of tuberculosis.
In addition to factories violating air pollution laws, worldwide temperature changes that global warming is causing are also a major reason for worsening air quality. Traffic on roads that emits toxic fumes and air travel that spews even more harmful gases have all contributed to this sorry state of affairs that has deprived common citizens of their right to fresh air. In various tests the WHO has found mixtures of smoke particles and solid and liquid fog in most cities of the world with various degrees of intensity. Such particles stay suspended in the atmosphere and pose serious environmental and health issues in a majority of countries including Pakistan.
In Pakistan every winter this air pollution emerges as a major challenge though that does not mean it doesn’t pose a threat in other seasons. In nearly all cities and even in towns and villages coughing and wheezing has become a regular occurrence especially among the elderly and children. Just breathing in the air in our cities is equivalent to being a heavy smoker. This is a serious issue. And the fact is that those in power know this. The federal and provincial governments in Pakistan must make efforts to reduce people’s exposure to air pollution. We can start by introducing a coal-free energy policy and a transport policy that does not depend on cars but on sustainable public transport systems. Regulation is crucial to ending the smog blanket across cities such as Lahore. Since Pakistan does not lack sunshine and winds, renewable energy sources can be a good alternative for air-polluting sources of energy. Poor air quality is a silent killer. Combatting it does not win elections. But it does save lives. And that is what our government and other governments in the developing world must prioritize.