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Editorial

November 5, 2018
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Death clouds

Editorial

November 5, 2018

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With Punjab under a cloud of toxic smog, one must wonder how many will lose their lives due to our failure to combat it this year. The numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO) are scary. In a report about the effect of toxic air on children, the WHO has noted that around 600,000 children under the age of 15 die from acute respiratory illnesses caused by toxic air. It has further noted that 93 percent children around the world are exposed to toxic air? This amounts to 1.8 billion young people, including 630 million under the age of five. In another alarming statistic, seven million people are said to die due to smog each year? The smog in Punjab is a death cloud, but we continue to act as if life is continuing as normal. How long will we tolerate living in this death trap? How long can we allow our children to suffer from our failure to tackle chronic air pollution?

Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives, as per the warning by the WHO. The right to clean air is part of the right to life. It is also the bare minimum that a child should expect when s/he is brought into the world. Air pollution is responsible for one out of 10 deaths amongst children under five each year. The WHO report has focused on only one form of toxin – PM2.5, particulate matter under a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres.

Lahore and Faisalabad currently rank amongst the top three cities in the world in terms of dangerously high amounts of PM2.5. The numbers are at least 20 times more than what is considered safe – and these levels should be considered enough to shut down schools and halt all outdoor activity. The toxins contained in the particulate matter include sulphate and black carbon, which can penetrate deep into the lungs or our cardiovascular system. The risk is higher in poor and middle-income countries; 98 percent of all children are exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO guidelines. Half of the respiratory infections in young children in these countries come from outdoor air pollution. This could also be a trigger for childhood cancer. Similarly toxic air has a deadly impact on pregnancy. Not only should we be aware of the toxic effects of air pollution, it is time for us to act now too. We know that the government will not do enough to combat the smog in our cities. We know we will need to switch to clean fuels, clean transportation and clean industries on an emergency basis. Why are we continuing to pretend the Lahore smog is just a temporary issue?

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