Will Pakistanis be able to survive one more winter?

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Muhammad Abdullah Malik

FOR a few days now, Lahore’s has generated headlines worldwide owing to its weather conditions. Residents of Lahore have been forced to breathe the most polluted air in any city of the world. This has marked the beginning of ‘fifth season’ in Pakistan also referred to as ‘smog season’. Punjab government has been claiming to have adopted adequate measures like closing coal-fired brick kilns, banning burning of the crop residue and prohibiting the burning of substandard fuel to combat smog.
Although, Government has adopted many measures to combat smog yet the measures taken were not drastic enough. There are many measures in the right direction that government has taken. For example, the government has ordered brick kilns to close for the next four months except for those with zig zag technology.
Zig Zag is fuel efficient technology that brick kilns had failed to completely adopt. Government has been asking Brick Kiln Association to adopt this technology for some time now but for rapid progress in the adoption of this technology requires subsidy from the government. Less than 10% of brick kilns have adhered to this despite being asked by the government. There is another important measure adopted by the government regarding burning of crop residue.
One of the reasons for the air turning toxic in the last few days is burning of crop residue. Burning of the crop residue is the third largest contributor by emissions to smog. Burning of crop residue, plastic and trash has been banned by the Government for the next three months. It is also one of the main contributors towards smog besides emissions from vehicles and from factories. Government has also issued notices to 200 factories and Section 144 has also be been imposed. Traffic Police can also seen active taking action against smoke-generating vehicles.
During the last winter season, Punjab government was asked by Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations to help farmers in purchasing machinery that can harvest with low residue.
The Government’s stance on the matter of smog is that smog can’t be eliminated in a matter of a few days. Only the steps that can lead to the reduction of smog can be taken at this point.
At this point, cities most effected by smog are Lahore, Gujranwala and Sheikhupura. In Lahore alone, there are 2.2 million vehicles emitting smoke and also there are 800 steel mills also operating in the heart of Punjab which are constantly producing smoke. There are roughly 10000 factories that are contributing towards air pollution in the province. These factories are not only contributing towards air pollution by producing smoke but plastic is also being burnt in these factories that is also proving very harmful for human health.
Government also has plans of launching awareness campaigns. In fact, awareness program will be launched by the Punjab government in schools and colleges.
Despite claiming to have done enough to deal with the menace of smog, Punjab Government has yet again failed in protecting people from smog. The single biggest piece of evidence is that private and public schools were closed on the orders of Chief Minister of Punjab owing to prevailing smog condition in the last few days. As the locals has been forced to breath, they want answers from their representatives on the prevalent smoggy conditions. The tendency of people, as always, is to put complete blame of this on the government.
The ‘smog weather’ in Lahore usually ends in December-January. Just like in the last few years, can only pray for rain as this seems to be the only solution to combat smog. Only government knows how many more mistakes will it need to commit to learn to care for the people it is bound to serve. Elderly people and young children, who are most vulnerable group, are once again paying the cost of incompetency of the government in dealing with smog this time around.
Although, Lahorites will be able to survive the smoggy conditions this time but the effects of breathing polluted air will have lasting effects on their health.
—The writer is a freelancer based in Lahore.