The caretaker chief minister of Punjab has called for expediting efforts to eradicate smog in Lahore by enforcing the Smog Prevention and Control Rules 2023. CM Mohsin Naqvi’s directives include ensuring that the roads are washed and free of dust and a crackdown be conducted on those involved in selling substandard fuel, according to reports. Measures will also be taken to seal institutions for two months if they are found to have repeatedly violated the anti-smog policy and advance affidavits will also reportedly be taken from farmers to prevent them from burning paddy residue. Lahore has become notorious in recent years for its smog problem and was ranked as the worst city in the world in terms of air pollution in 2022, according to a report by IQAir, with Pakistan ranking third overall among countries with the worst air pollution. Air pollution is not only adversely impacting people in terms of quality of life but is also a serious threat to health and safety, with a report from the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute released in August estimating that air pollution in Lahore was cutting life expectancy by up to four years. More alarmingly still, the report found that this was the case in Sheikhpura, Kasur and Peshawar as well.
While the actions recommended by the caretaker CM of Punjab will undoubtedly be helpful, if consistently enforced, it is clear that more needs to be done. Reports say that 63 per cent of the smog in the city is caused by motorcycles and motorcycle rickshaws, with experts highlighting the need to move towards electric three-wheelers in place of motorcycle rickshaws and transition brick kilns away from coal and towards agricultural waste. However, the technology for electric vehicles and several other environmentally-friendly solutions is not widely available in Pakistan and international economic assistance will likely be necessary in order for a viable transition towards greener technologies to take place.
As it stands, polluting vehicles like bikes and rickshaws are the cheapest option for a people battling backbreaking inflation and struggling to put food on the table. To this end, it would be advisable for multilateral institutions’ economic bailout plans to deviate from dogmatic austerity and offer financial support for initiatives seeking to counter pollution and climate change. This does not mean that local leaders get to escape responsibility for the climate change and pollution problems. Had we been stricter about polluting vehicles and industries earlier on, things might not have reached the point where people’s lives are at risk from pollution. There is also a need for better urban planning, more green spaces and a renewed focus on public transportation in order to counter air pollution.