Tuesday February 07, 2023

Poison in the air

By Editorial Board
November 04, 2022

Environmental issues in Pakistan have become a major challenge and one manifestation of them is the recurrence of dense smog in Punjab, especially areas in and around Lahore. Air pollution is a major cause of smog that engenders multiple other issues related to the economy and health in the country. Punjab’s provincial capital has been facing this problem for long but in the past few years it has become a matter of concern. Over the years, authorities in the Punjab government have been unable to take concrete steps to prevent the onslaught of this menace. As the winter is already knocking at the door, the government of Punjab must take some speedy steps.

Among other factors, it is also the incidents of stubble burning in nearby localities from Faisalabad to Sheikhupura that particularly affect the motorway frequently in winters. Though there have been clear directions by various court orders to the government of Punjab, it has failed to control the stubble burning. Already, Lahore is one of the most polluted cities in the world with hazardous levels of air quality index. The smog itself is a mix of dust particles, volatile compounds and harmful gases. An overload of cars, open building sites and the culling of trees are only some of the reasons identified to have exacerbated the smog situation in the country. In the last decade, a number of activists have questioned the developmental policies of the Punjab government, which has favoured roads over the environment repeatedly. The citizens of Lahore are now paying the cost of such a skewed model of development.

Only concerted efforts with a detailed and well-coordinated plan can counter smog before it emerges and gets out of control. The plan must also include a strategy to intensify monitoring of industrial units and vehicles causing environmental pollution. It is imperative to take preemptive measures to mitigate the impact of pollution and the resultant smog. At least one point is clear from the experience of the past many years – without a comprehensive framework for the prevention of smog, this problem will keep recurring. The framework must also include a ban on use of substandard fuel in mills and factories with strict monitoring by all concerned departments. There is also a need to promote farm mechanization with minimum pollution. Air pollution in Pakistan exceeds European levels by almost 10-20 times, and sometimes even more. Even when lives are not directly lost, millions continue to suffer long term breathing ailments as a result of the high levels of air toxicity. There is a need to set up monitoring mechanisms and target numbers which must be achieved through acting against polluting industries. This cannot be done without a comprehensive approach to curbing pollution.