Saturday December 04, 2021

Living in dystopia

November 26, 2021

The smog that has descended on Lahore has made the city a health hazard, with people quite literally unable to breathe and facing serious respiratory conditions. The fault lies not with the beautiful city of Lahore itself, once known for its picturesque winters. The fault lies with the way the problem has been allowed to worsen from one year to the next, to a point where Lahore is now ranked as the most polluted city in the world, moving ahead of New Delhi, and cities in China. This is what happens when governments ignore problems and allow toxicity to grow, poisoning people and leaving them to breathe in fumes that will damage them for life.

Lahore’s schools are shut down once again for three days of the week and workplaces asked to bring in employees at 50 percent strength. That may be a short-term fix but can this help us overcome this problem? These school closures once more – after two years of Covid-19 – mean a further disaster for students of all ages. This is once again a disruption to a school year which we had hoped was slowly creeping back to normal. The same holds true for productivity at our offices. And of course no one cares about the labourers who must work in the open, or others who have no way to escape the smog that has descended like something from a science fiction novel.

The solution can only lie in beginning measures now so that next year is not as bad. Unfortunately, environmental issues are still thought of as an impediment to development. The inability to marry environmental concerns with developmental ideas has been an issue across governments in Pakistan. After suffering from numerous climate related catastrophes in the last decade, including floods and heat waves, the country is still committed to build more coal-fired power plants and has a vehicle centric idea of development. Add to that rapid deforestation and it becomes obvious why breathing clean air is almost impossible in the more ‘developed’ parts of the country. The fact is that poor air quality is a silent killer. Combatting it does not win elections or allow high levels of commissions. But it saves lives. And that is what our government and other governments in the developing world must prioritise. This is not a problem that can be ignored. Government action has never been as urgently needed as is the case today.