SMOG: Not Just One City’s Problem Anymore

Concerned about the recent smog in Punjab, Pakistan? Well, you should be. Writing this blog seemed like a no-brainer in view of the recent news about 70 international and domestic flights grounded in Lahore due to smog. It seems our country’s lush greenery is no longer sufficient to protect the rising problem of air pollution. Lahore is fast becoming one of the most polluted cities in Asia, which puts Pakistan in a difficult position in the South-East Asian region. Smog has become the biggest reason for high morbidity and mortality in the country besides traffic-related incidents. According to recent World Health Organization data, the air quality index is at 155, which makes Lahore one of ten worst cities with smog to live in. Yikes!



Impact of Smog

Unfortunately, the problem of smog is not just limited to the city anymore but has spread across the nation. A World Bank report has declared Pakistan’s urban air pollution as the worst, impacting health and economy of the country. A permanent haze seems to surround us, causing an increasing number of people to cover their mouths with masks, so as to avoid breathing in harmful air. Rain seems to be the only relief from smog but it has become scarce due to global warming. Winters have come along and there is still no sign of rain. These dry conditions allow all the pollutants to accumulate in lower atmosphere levels causing smog to spread all across Punjab.

Smog Spreading Across Punjab

Air pollution like smog poses serious threats to health and well-being of people. About 6 million deaths have been attributed to exposure to air pollution. Smog causes dryness of membranes in nose and throat, which can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of more illnesses. It also results in lower visibility, contributing to an increased number of accidents. Resultantly, motorways and highways get shut down in various parts of the country, which in turn affects businesses. It may also contribute to delays in crop growth that can have negative economic implications.

Factors Contributing to Smog

Increasing number of governmental and non-governmental organizations have raised concerns. They have begun monitoring campaigns in an effort to identify the underlying causes of smog.  The smog problem has become even worse in the past five years. The major factors that have led to smog formation over the region include:

  • poor quality of air,
  • high levels of pollution in urban areas,
  • persistent agricultural fires in the state of Punjab,
  • relatively high humidity during the month of October,
  • an increasing level of urbanization and industrialization,
  • the craze for motorization and fossil fuel usage.

Problems with Current Mitigatory Efforts

The government found it easier to blame India for the rising smog in Lahore in the past. However, there is no denying that our country has a serious problem and effective solutions are needed to address the problem. Currently, good initiatives like the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act and The National Environmental Policy are present but lack proper implementation and enforcement strategies.

Moreover, neither Pak-EPA nor Climate Change Division has the organizational structure required to deal responsibly with air quality management. This does not bode well for a nation bogged down with four times the WHO recommended health-damaging particulate matters.

Usually, comparative risk assessments provide information regarding air pollution’s impact on local aspects, especially health. However, the government seems to be more focused on the climate change or other global issues, rather than handling local pollution problems and saving the people at home.


What Can Be Done?

The short-term goal should include:

  • improving the mortality and morbidity rates by reducing pollutant levels from mobile sources,
  • eliminating particulate matters like lead emissions and sulfur oxide from stationary sources, and
  • reducing the traditional air pollutants like carbon monoxide and greenhouse gases.

The long-term goals to improve quality of air should include:

  • the adoption of measures to reduce the trend of motorization,
  • introducing underground train service or using bus rapid transits for quicker transportation, even in congested areas,
  • adopting other infrastructural changes, such as paving roads,
  • improving traffic flows by creating high occupancy lanes, better land use, and urban planning.

Smog is another problem in a series of national problems, but one that requires immediate action. Eliminating smog is necessary for building a healthier environment and protecting future generations. It will also allow Pakistan to set an example as a nation that follows international environmental standards and contributes to a healthier and safer population.

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