Nabeel Zafar describes a recurringly difficult phenomenon
The Smog hits again condition in northern Pakistan has worsened to the extent that the Punjab government was forced to close down all private offices and educational institutions in Lahore in addition to the weekly holidays observed on Saturdays and Sundays. The reason cited for this closure is preventive and speedy remedy provided to ensure public safety, conserve lives and preempt and mitigate imminent threat of smog in the province of Punjab. In the current situation a persistent deterioration in Air Quality Index of the city of Lahore is noted that keeps on fluctuating from satisfactory to poor levels that is likely to cause breathing discomfort, respiratory tract diseases and heart diseases. This decision comes days after Lahore topped the list of cities with the most polluted air in the world after air quality levels turned hazardous.
It was reported that the authorities mentioned that Air Quality Index (AQI) of a particular area exceeds 400 AQI, a notice is required be issued through the education department for the closure of the respective schools or to conduct online classes as the case may be. AQI is a metric used by governments to inform the public about the quality of air. It is noted that the higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health hazard. AQI values at or below 100 are generally thought of as satisfactory. Anything above that is considered unhealthy. The authorities have directed that if the AQI for a particular area reaches 500AQI, then all the activities of respective industries are to be shut down.
The weather experts point out that what makes the matter dangerous is that it was not smog only but it was pure pollution. In addition it was reported that smog occurs when smoke mixes with fog. But there is a caveat in this explanation is that the humidity level in the city was recorded at 60 per cent and such a level does not form fog. It was also pointed out that mist did not cause any eye irritation, which also proves that the current haze was pure pollution. The experts worry that this situation is purely indigenous. At the moment the country is still experiencing westerly winds, meaning that the wind is flowing towards India and pollution from that side of the border has still not come over to Pakistan. Once the wind changes its direction and carries Indian pollution into Pakistan, the situation here would certainly worsen.
While air pollution is a persistent issue in most urban centres in Pakistan, every winter season contaminates the air in Punjab and pollution shoots up as farmers burn rice stalks or stubble left behind after harvesting to clear their fields to plant wheat. During these cooler months, Lahore, which is surrounded by rice-growing districts, is covered with thick smog. Smog occurs when smoke mixes with fog. Earlier the Lahore High Court (LHC) had ordered the provincial government to issue a notification directing private offices in Lahore to halve staff attendance in an effort to tackle smog. LHC directed the provincial government to set up a smog cell at the offices of Punjab Disaster Management Authority (PDMA). Lahore’s smog is now permanently part and parcel of the winter season and there is no sign that heat-waves, floods and smog will let up anytime soon, notwithstanding the currently fashionable lingo of adaptation and mitigation.
Some of the major underlying triggers of Lahore’s smog are brick kilns that emit massive amounts of smoke but they are profitable for owners and subcontractors who continue to rely on them despite them being banned by the apex judiciary more than three decades before. Meanwhile, the number of emission-producing motor vehicles on the roads of the greater Lahore area grows almost exponentially every year. Manufacturers sell cars for profits to captive consumers and the government imports billions of dollars of oil and builds roads to facilitate. It could, instead, invest in universal public transport. The smog conditions badly affect industrial workers, street vendors, rickshaw drivers and domestic servants who all go out to earn a living on daily basis.
As the air quality levels in Lahore continue to deteriorate the city now is the fifth most polluted city in the world. The worsening situation compelled the provincial government to impose a state of emergency banning burning of crop residues across the province. The government has also stated that modern harvesters would be provided to farmers in a bid to prevent them from stubble burning while brick kilns will be transferred to zigzag technology. In addition, anti-smog squads will be checking vehicles in the city emitting smoke and actions will be taken against them. In another action, the Lahore High Court, while castigating the provincial government for failing to take apt measures to curb smog, has directed the provincial government to keep schools in Lahore closed for three days a week due to the worsening smog situation. TW