Sunday January 16, 2022

Pollution issues

December 06, 2021

With pollution increasing rapidly in Pakistan there is a need to take this issue more seriously. Prime Minister Imran Khan was not off the mark when he recently called for giving incentives to industries for shifting their units currently in the cities to outside locations. This is easier said than done. Ideally, polluting industries should not have been allowed to operate in cities in the first place. But, let’s say just half a century ago, the issue of pollution was not as menacing as it is today. As awareness about environmental degradation and climate change became more widespread, most countries started taking it seriously. They started using modern technology for environmental safety and by the turn of the century climate change and environmental degradation had become an international agenda. After two decades of the 21st century, we see that Pakistan is still lagging in its fight against pollution that is a major cause of such degradation.

These issues demand measures that many countries have already adopted. Smoke emanating from brick kilns, factories and transport is one of the primary causes of pollution in most cities, and of smog especially in Punjab. It will be a long time before we can convert public transport to electric vehicles, but at least we can impose more stringent inspection of industries and vehicles across the country. There is a dire need to introduce a more affordable and less polluting public transport so that citizens do not try to buy their own vehicles. Large buses that are hybrid may be a good solution before we can drive all electric buses on roads. Smog is an issue that still awaits a comprehensive policy to control it. This is not a federal or metropolitan issue in isolation; rather it needs concerted efforts from national to provincial and local levels. Until a comprehensive and long-term policy comes into being, the country cannot wait for it for years. At least, there should also be medium- and short-term plans to counter the menace of smog and other pollution issues.

The problem is that most such plans and strategies fail to deliver due to a lack of timelines for implementation; meanwhile, pollution works as a silent killer. Then there is the challenge of putting in place a robust air-quality control system. In the presence of major industrial units in the heart of big cities like Karachi and Lahore – and brick kilns in surrounding areas – air-quality will keep declining unless a control system is functioning properly, and not on paper alone. The same applies to steel furnaces that we find even in small cities and towns spewing smoke without any checks by local authorities. In this case, corruption at the local level also plays a role when concerned officials prefer to look the other way if their gratification is plentiful. There is also a need for a regional dialogue so that neighbouring countries can contain cross-border pollution with a unified approach. These collective efforts may also serve as a springboard to normalise relations with our neighbours so that at least some semblance of normalcy comes back to this region.