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March 30, 2020

‘Lockdown regime: It’s time we reassessed urban sprawl, industrialisation to lessen air pollution


March 30, 2020

Karachi: The National Forum for Environment and Health (NFEH) has said that the lockdown regime enforced in Karachi has provided an opportunity to the relevant authorities to reassess the urban sprawl, the mass transportation and the industrial needs of the metropolis to curb harmful carbon emissions.

In a press statement issued on Saturday, NFEH President Naeem Qureshi said Karachi was one of the major industrial and commercial hubs all over the world where lockdown orders had brought immediate drop in air pollution.

The NFEH president said that with the public transportation completely halted, a minimal use of private vehicles, and a limited industrial activity, they had seen a decline in Karachi’s air pollution.

He said the relevant authorities responsible for mitigating the perennial environmental degradation should take stock of the present situation. He said the relevant authorities should not miss this opportunity as they should do a real-time monitoring of the drop in air pollution levels in the city with a massive decrease in the public transportation and the industrial activities due to the lockdown regime in place.

Qureshi said the real-time monitoring of the air pollution data should lead to research studies by the scientists whose findings would help the relevant authorities in mitigating the environmental issue.

“Once the lockdown orders are withdrawn, the benefits of the present situation for the city’s environmental conditions should be retained to a certain extent,” said Qureshi, who is also the convener of the FPCCI’s Central Standing Committee on Environment.

“Such benefits for our environment could only be achieved when we sit together now to do a proper reassessment of our needs to do the industrial and transportation activities for the good of the society in a socially responsible and sustainable manner,” he said.

Qureshi said the city needed proper infrastructures for the public transportation and the industrial requirements but these systems should have proper mechanisms to safeguard the environment.

“The present situation once again teaches us the lesson we have long forgotten that environmental laws, rules, and regulations of the state should be enforced in a uniform and indiscriminate manner to mitigate the issue of environmental degradation,” he said.

“While roads today carry fewer vehicles and minimal number of industries doing their operations in Karachi, we have to think now as how to massively improve our travelling and industrial practices to safeguard the environment that is constantly being damaged due to harmful emissions,” he said.

“The Coronavirus epidemic has caused massive health emergency in our midst but this is like a blessing in disguise for us as we should not lose this opportunity,” said the NFEH president.

NFEH Adviser Saquib Ejaz Hussain said the air pollution was one of the world’s leading health risks. “Recent releases from Nasa on the air quality over Wuhan before the onset of the coronavirus episode shows that the region was all covered with pollutants but it thinned out after China’s attempt to deal with the situation. This leads to the inference that the aerosols in the polluted air were the carrier of the corona virus.”

According to Saquib, exposure to common air pollutants can alter host immunity to respiratory viral infections. “Given the number of individuals that contract some kind of respiratory virus each year and considering that the most common form of illness in urban areas is respiratory allergies and infections which account for more hospital visits, potential interactions between exposure to air primary and secondary pollutants and respiratory virus infections have significant public health implications for people throughout Pakistan.

More importantly, air pollution-induced enhanced susceptibility to respiratory viral infections could have even more serious implications for individuals with pre-existing pulmonary conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”

He added: “Sepa being a regulator is mandated to conduct studies and share results with public to improve the understanding of how exposure to air pollution enhances the risk for respiratory virus infections and who, if anyone, is most susceptible. An important challenge for the future will be to further our understanding of cellular and molecular mechanisms mediating pollutant-induced effects on the susceptibility to viral infections and potential therapeutic strategies to overcome these effects."