Thursday October 05, 2023

Preparing for smog

By Editorial Board
September 24, 2022

The beautiful city of Lahore, once known for its picturesque winters, now struggles to breathe every year as the cold sets in – a shroud of smog covering Lahore and adjoining areas. The fault lies not with the city but with the way the problem has been allowed to worsen from one year to the next, to a point where Lahore has been ranked as the most polluted city in the world. 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. This year too there is a strong possibility that smog will engulf Lahore sooner rather than later. This is an issue that no single department or ministry can solve on its own. From communications and commerce to environment protection and industries – all relevant stakeholders must plan beforehand for this impending smog that has an adverse impact on health and economy alike.

Though there are various factors that contribute to the spread of smog, emissions from industries play perhaps the most significant role. Industries across Pakistan are not particularly compliant with environment protection regulation but in Punjab their negligence results in dire consequences in the shape of smog. In the absence of a proper monitoring system such emissions accumulate in the air and form dense clouds of smog. There is a need to continuously monitor the density of particles in the air so that immediate remedial actions can be taken to prevent the onslaught of smog in winter. Despite the fact that every year smog causes disruptions in business activities and normal lives of citizens, we experience nearly the same situation each time. Hazardous emissions are nearly always there and the problem is further compounded by crop residue burning across the border. There is also an urgent need to procure more mobile smog units so that they can detect any smog emanation in the bordering areas with India. Lahore and Faisalabad are big industrial cities and apart from industrial emissions they also have millions of carbon-monoxide emitting vehicles on the roads that add to the intensity of smog concentration in surrounding areas. In fact it is not something that Punjab needs to deal with only in winter; there should be an ever-vigilant approach for all seasons throughout the year.

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. The country is going through the worst climate-change induced natural disaster. Despite all the warnings, the country is still committed to building 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 prioritize. This is not a problem that can be ignored. Government action has never been as urgently needed as is the case today.