By Intsab Sahi
The deadly smog that made life hell for Lahore’s residents a few years ago has descended upon the city once again, and it appears the government is nothing but clueless on how to deal with this extremely hazardous environmental catastrophe.
Over the last few days, the Air Quality Index of Lahore has gone 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 a “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 has become the level of pollution in Lahore’s air that the Amnesty International was forced to state that alarming levels 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 appears to be exactly the case in Lahore. The city and its residents are believed to have been “choking on smog” for the past few days. The World Economic Forum even 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 appears to be either clueless about how to handle the situation, or simply far too careless. Recent statements by some of the ministers, especially one by the very state minister for climate change, have 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 current increase of pollutants in the air were caused by increased traffic due to a protest rally being staged by opposition party JUI-F.
While Fawad Chaudhry, the minister for science, placed the blame squarely on rice stubble burning by Indian farmers.
Syed Muhammad Abubakar, an expert on environmental issues, said the government and its representatives, were only 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.”
Noted environmental lawyer and activist, Rafay Alam, also found faults with Pakistan and the way things were being run in the country. “We need to change the way we live,” he told Academia Magazine over a telephonic conversation. “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.”
Asked if closing down schools was one of the ways to keep children, who were most vulnerable to the degrading quality of air, he said it staying at home won’t provide any more clean air than that available outside.”
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.