Noxious air and poisonous smog have engulfed Pakistan over recent weeks leading to a health emergency. The situation has turned so bad that some social media users have described Lahore as the dirtiest city in the world. Pakistan first blamed India for the condition, but it soon realised the very reasons that have worsened air quality in India are polluting Pakistan’s air too, one of which is stubble burning.
In Lahore, the second-most populous city in Pakistan after Karachi, the Punjab Environment Protection Department (EPD) found alarmingly high level of pollutants in the air that lead to smog. EPD’s air pollution measuring stations found the average PM 2.5 pollutants in Lahore to be around 330 milligram per meter cubic. The yearly average is only 35 units. Similarly, the PM 10 level was a severe 370. Vehicular emission was also found to have increased at least three times over the tolerable limit.
Besides the road traffic, domestic and international flights have been hit badly by the pollution. “At least 60 international and domestic flights have been affected in Lahore and some other cities of Punjab since the last week. Despite rescheduling of the flights the dense smog or fog is hampering the flight operation of both Pakistan International Airlines and foreign airlines,” PIA Lahore spokesman Athar Awan told PTI today.
According to the spokesman, foreign-based airlines are rescheduling to morning hours but still the smog is leading to delays or cancellations.
A New York Times article recently described smog as a fifth season in Pakistan and that description itself paints a poor picture. Millions of vehicles, tandoors and chullahs, factories, coal-fired power stations, dirty industry, stubble burning in both Pakistan and India have meant that the misery is spread across both sides of the border and the issue needs to be dealt with immediately and with the largest interest in mind.
Reports in Pakistan indicate that Lahore and Multan are the worst-hit big cities in Pakistan in terms air pollution. However, it isn’t limited to these cities. Recently, power plants were shut down multiple times which turned the lights off in several towns.
Last week, a report of The Weather Channel pegged average air pollution in Pakistan’s major cities at least four times above the safe limits prescribed by the WHO. An article published in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper quoted Zia ul Islam, programme manager of the National Ozone Unit. While addressing a session at the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, he said: “If we don’t address the air quality problems, the world will not forgive us.”