Smog, Smoggy, Smoggier: Clear The Air, Please!

smog-lahore

Like in the years before, the people of Lahore again had a nasty experience with smog in the last week of October. While our politicians took the usual “blame others” route. We ask experts what truly needs to be done to curb this tide of environmental degradation.

he deadly smog that made life hell for Lahore’s residents a few years ago, descended upon the city once again late in October, and while it did, it appeared the government was caught clueless on how to deal with the extremely hazardous environmental catastrophe. Over the course of the few days that the smog persisted over Lahore, the Air Quality Index of the city went upwards of 400, which is considered extremely hazardous for humans. The AQI measures the quality of air over a particular area and pollutant levels anywhere above 300 are deemed to be “hazardous”The quality of air is measured on a scale called PM2.5. PM2.5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, which is about 3% the diameter of a human hair.

Such readings are usually included in air quality reports to indicate the level of pollutants in the atmosphere. These pollutants can come from various sources, including power plants, motor vehicles, airplanes, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, volcanic eruptions and dust storms. Such became the level of pollution in Lahore’s air that the Amnesty International was forced to state that the alarming level of air pollution was a sheer “violation of human rights”. Traditionally, the high readings on the PM2.5 scale call for a health emergency, for anyone exposed to such dense smog is at serious risk of respiratory problems, lung infections, and severe irritation caused by pollutants in the air. Which appeared to be exactly the case in Lahore. The city and its residents were seen “choking on smog”, as visibility in the city went low and lower. Even the World Economic Forum went so far as to say that “some days, Lahore has the worst air quality in the world”.

Clueless Or Careless?

For its part, the government appeared to be either clueless about how to handle the situation, or simply far too careless. Statements by some of the ministers, especially one by the very state minister for climate change, left many wondering about the intention of those in power to help people cope with the atmospheric degradation. Zartaj Gul, the state minister for climate change, claimed that the increase of pollutants in the air was caused by increased traffic due to a protest rally staged by opposition party JUI-F during the very days the smog covered Lahore’s skyline. On the other hand, Fawad Chaudhry, minister for science, placed the blame squarely on rice stubble burning by Indian farmers. 

Such became the level of pollution in Lahore’s air that Amnesty International was forced to state that the alarming level of pollution was a sheer “violation of human rights”

But according to Syed Muhammad Abubakar, an expert on environmental issues, the government and its representatives, had only been finding excuses to absolve themselves of all responsibilities. “Stubble burning is only a small factor when we discuss the degradation in environment. We have ample sources of pollution in Pakistan as well, like brick kilns operating on olden technology. Additionally, we can sign a treaty with India to curb stubble burning in the future for benefit of people of both countries,” he opined.

Indian capital New Delhi was also engaged in a similar battle with smog, although the severity of the smog really went through the roof there. During the last few days of October, the air quality in New Delhi became so bad that some cited the air quality meters had been unable to record the severity of the pollution. The Indian government handed out over five million special breathing masks to students across the capital to help reduce the effects of smog on humans. The move was then followed by an immediate closure of schools across the city, as well as the imposition of partial ban on private vehicles under an “odd-even” number plate formula to reduce the stress on environment. 

Permanent Solution 

While New Delhi shut down school as a preemptive measure, noted environmental lawyer and activist, Rafay Alam, said a similar step in Pakistan would only be a temporary solution and much more needed to be done. “Staying at home won’t provide any more clean air than that available outside,” he told Academia Magazine over a telephonic conversation. “We need to change the way we live; what we need to focus on is major improvements in the types of fuel used in the transportation and energy sectors. Many cars and generators rely on diesel, which is a major producers of hazardous fumes. We need to move to alternative fuels.”

Noted environmental lawyer and activist Rafay Alam says we need to change the way we live to improve the quality of environment

 

The severity of air quality in Lahore seems to be becoming a concern for the younger residents of Lahore. Taking a leaf from the book of global environment icon Greta Thunberg, teenagers Leila Alam, Mishael Hyat and Laiba Siddiqi recently filed a petition with the Lahore High Court accusing Punjab government of violating their right to life and good health by not taking measures to improve the air quality in the city. Only time will tell if the authorities respond to the plea.

While it’s hard to exactly point to the reasons causing the recurring smog over Lahore, one thing is more than certain, we cannot keep on blaming India or other external factors for the mess that we currently find ourselves in. What we truly need to focus on is making the right changes in our lives to limit the activities that worsen the environment around us. Until we do that, we are bound to keep blaming others as we cough out our guts in the deadly smog, which, by the way will not cease to exist all by itself.