Tuesday January 18, 2022

Battling smog

December 25, 2021

Lahore has been at the top of the list of the world’s most polluted cities over the past few weeks. The number of patients suffering from heart issues, chest infections etc is increasing day by day.

Daily life has been practically suspended due to smog; safety measures have been taken in view of serious traffic accidents; motorways are being closed from time to time; flight operations of various airlines have also been disrupted. Despite the temporary closure of educational institutions, offices and markets, the challenge of air pollution has not been overcome. According to research data issued by the University of Chicago, the average age of every Pakistani citizen has decreased by 2.7 years due to air pollution.

The areas adjacent to the Pakistani border in India are also facing a similar situation. According to media reports, Delhi has been declared one of the most polluted cities in the world, due to smoke emitted from factories and vehicles. According to a report by an international organisation, 22 cities out of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India. Reportedly, New Delhi is termed as the most polluted capital in the world. In 2019, air pollution was believed to be the reason for casualties of around 1.7 million people in India.

Farmers in eastern Punjab used to burn crop stubble on a large scale, considering it an affordable and fast way to prepare the land for the next crop. The widespread crop fires could also be seen through NASA satellite images. However, the Supreme Court of India is now continuously monitoring government measures to tackle air pollution. All construction and demolition activities in the capital were banned last month. On court orders, other strict measures have also been taken.

Similarly, several world powers including China, Russia and the US are also struggling to combat the challenge of air pollution. According to experts, the huge use of coal is the main reason for causing smog in China. The Chinese government, in this regard, introduced various environmental initiatives such as the Great Green Wall to plant more than 35 billion trees across 12 provinces.

Air pollution, in my view, is a year-round problem that needs to be addressed globally. However, we have to deal with smog in a specific season each year. Sadly, countries in our region are indulging in playing blame-game on this issue rather than increasing cooperation. Various international forums and accords, particularly related to the Paris Climate Agreement, SDGs, ASEAN, Saarc, and the Male Declaration also emphasise collaboration at the state level to control air pollution.

In my view, the lack of governmental cooperation on public issues is the biggest challenge that our region is facing currently. Although we understand the significance of dialogue on bilateral peace, border disputes and other sensitive subjects, issues like smog affecting all the people in the region are badly ignored by the policy makers. In 2017, then- CM of Pakistani Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, in a letter to his Indian counterpart Amarinder Singh, wrote that it was in the best interest of both parts of Punjab to ensure a collective effort towards identifying technologies and business methods that may help in controlling smog formation. Unfortunately, the offer was not well-received on both sides of the border.

I am ready to play my due role so that the two neighbouring countries stand together to solve public issues regardless of border tensions. In order to protect people from smog, it is recommended to take concrete measures by taking all regional governments on board.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

The writer tweets @RVankwani