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November 14, 2019

Dangerous winds


November 14, 2019

Studies suggest more research is needed to understand the cross-border impacts of pollution from one country to the other. This would also mean that neither Pakistan nor India can alone control pollution, and that a combined approach is needed. This combined approach would in the first place need agriculturists and scientists to tell us how poor farmers and peasants can get rid of crop stubble without burning. The other methods such as using chemicals which allow the stubble to dissolve are expensive and naturally the farmers themselves do not possess the resources to use them. They then need help. The burning of crops notably in October/November is necessary because after farmers sow crops such as wheat and vegetables, they need to clear the field and stubble to prepare them for other crops to be cultivated. Since neither country can control the winds, it is the stubble burning which would have to be managed.

Since the issue is a common one, an approach that brings in both countries, and involves stakeholders including farmers is required. Naturally, in such a situation better ties between New Delhi and Islamabad would be helpful. Nevertheless, for the sake of people in both countries, we need to get past these barriers. Last week in Lahore, three teenage girls moved the Lahore High Court, seeking reliable data on air pollution so that citizens could protect their health as best as possible. But the matter is a complex one. Environmental pollution needs to be tackled in a way that is sustainable and does not involve huge costs. Innovative solutions will have to be found. It is unrealistic to expect that farmers will stop burning their fields or that brick kiln owners can afford to shut down their operations for a prolonged period on a day’s notice. Longer-term planning is required with the phasing out of polluting materials and industries. This must be done in an equitable way so that it does not add to the misery of people who have no choice but gives them greater options which would benefit both them and citizens who must breathe the air.

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