Undoubtedly, air pollution is one of Pakistan’s major environmental concerns at the moment. The situation is dramatic in the country’s second largest city, Lahore that has been witnessing smog episodes for last few years. The latest smog outbreak has created an alarming situation for the residents of the city. It is believed that prime reason for a smog blanket at lower atmosphere is due to burning of crops in New Delhi and in Lahore. The farmers are used to sow crops and vegetable in November for the next season; fields are set to fire to remove stubbles of the previous crops in order to make place apt for sowing. There are many stubbles in the vicinity of Punjab and Indian cities which might result intense smog during this year.
According to the experts, crop burning is being misinterpreted and could not be termed as major reason of smog because it has been happening for decades. Apart, there are other man-made activities continuously deteriorating the air quality of the region followed by deforestation, vehicular emissions, industrial emissions, brick kilns and coal burning. The major contributor of pollutants is Eastern Punjab, which is a home to coal-based industrial plants. Similarly, the number of vehicles has dramatically increased over the decade in Lahore. There are many factories all around the city that do not use natural gas and burn other types of material including rubber, tyre, black carbon in order to produce desired fuel.
Air pollution is an issue that needs to be addressed on emergency basis as Lahore is now considered amongst the most polluted cities in Asia, which is nature’s red-light warning against the inefficient, futile and blind development.
A chemist Arie-Haagen Smit, the father of air pollution control identified two primary pollutants that cause smog are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCS) and Nitrous Oxides. VOCS could easily be converted into vapours that may contain elements such as Carbon, Hydrogen, Chlorine and Sulphur. Plants and animals naturally produce some but others come from anthropogenic activities like solvents, paints, glues, petroleum etc. While incomplete combustion emanates Nitrous Oxides; gives yellow colour to smog. They react with sunlight to form secondary air pollutants such as PANs and ground level ozone. Since industrialization, People in Punjab have become accustomed to the notorious smog swirling and hanging over their streets that may create severe health repercussions. These pollutants are detrimental to kids and older people and attributed to various infections such as watering the eyes, damage lung tissues, increase the risk of respiratory infections and exacerbates asthma and emphysema whereas exposure in pregnant women leads to low birth weight and potential birth defects.
During winters, the thick and dense fog layer at lower atmosphere does not allow the pollutants to escape and consequently forms smog by combination of fog and smoke, the thick grey haze, which is now covering most of the cities in Punjab. Smog make its way according to the local weather conditions. Photochemical smog is strongest in urban areas with calm wind and dry warm, sunny weather. Climate change is inevitable and affecting every region for decades. Smog that used to touch the city later has come earlier this time. Similarly, delayed rainfall intensified the situation for the city over the last few years. Even during summer seasons, haze seems to be prominent and hanging over the city that could only be washed through frequent rainfall.
EPA labs need to be efficient and must have empirical evidence in order to take immediate action against offenders. Reading must be publicized through websites or social media. Simultaneously, EPA must give a serious look on tree plantation that is a pre-requisite of any developmental project. Countries like China and Poland that depend on coal for energy badly experienced high level of industrial smog. We must switch to alternative means and keep ourselves away from burning fossil fuels that may allow us to breathe more easily or openly.
For traffic, appropriate planning is required because innumerable smoke producing transport such as two-stroke auto and cycle rickshaws, old vehicles with obsolete engines are often seen running in the city despite being banned. These smoke producing vehicles shouldn’t be sanctioned to breach government policies hence, penalties must be imposed to contrive this turmoil. New LTC buses use good quality of diesel and same goes to Metro buses but only 1.5% of total population of Lahore is availing this service. We must bring into light all impediments and plan accordingly in order to convert masses to public transport by giving underground parking areas where necessary. It will surely help in massive reduction of air pollution.
Air pollution is an issue that needs to be addressed on emergency basis as Lahore is now considered amongst the most polluted cities in Asia, which is nature’s red-light warning against the inefficient, futile and blind development. One must learn from the initiative of KP Government for ‘Billion Tress Tsunami Afforestation Project must be adulated which intends to increase the forest cover by 2%. Trees keep the atmosphere pure and clean and termed as lungs of nature; therefore, there is a dire need to revisit all the ambivalent policies and enforce forestation to manage detrimental climatic changes. The Government along with all stakeholders must join hands to create awareness among people and bring reforms and kick start a campaign to eradicate the deadly smog and must not squander nation’s resources on unproductive development projects.
– Haider Ali, a young professional, works as Research Analyst (Environment & Solid Waste Management Sector) at Urban Sector Planning and Management Service Unit (Pvt) Ltd, Lahore.