Smog is a hazy blanket of pollution that is common is most major, metropolitan cities. It is more specifically known as ground-level ozone. Smog is typically caused due to a reaction of industrial emissions from power plants, factories, cars and other sources react with heat and sunlight in the atmosphere. This cocktail of emissions can cause serious damage to health when inhaled regularly.
According to last year’s global Air Quality Index (AQI), Lahore was ranked the second (and then first) most air polluted city in the world. The hazardous level of smog led to the closure of schools in Lahore and other cities in central Punjab. At one point, the Punjab School Education Department even went as far as to ban all outdoor activity until the end of December.
However, smog was not a novel issue in 2019. The smog situation has been ongoing in Lahore for many years, worsening in the winter season. Despite this continuous health crisis, the government has done little to attempt to solve or prevent the exacerbation of smog.
The PTI government came under immense criticism last year for it’s perceived ill-handling of the health crisis. Particular moments that stuck out where the Minister for Climate Change, Zartaj Gul, deeming the smog “fake news” and blaming protestors for it’s outbreak.
In addition to this, the government further blamed the increased smog on “farmers from India”. When Amnesty international deemed the hazardous level of smog a “violation of human rights”, the government still failed to respond effectively.
In fact, some analysts believe that the government actually contributed in the aggravation of the crisis for its own gains. The Punjab government was accused of “politicking on public health” after taking back its decision to close down brick kilns in the region, which are cited as a major contributor to the annual smog.
Moreover, people further believe that the government’s claim that it doesn’t want to render people jobless by closing down those industries that are contributing to smog are baseless. This is because the government has failed to provide alternatives for those working in those sectors. Moreover, it has also failed to incorporate environmentally friendly technology
The health risks of consistent inhaling of smog are far and wide. Smog has the potential to affect various parts of the human body including eyes, throat, nose, skin and most alarmingly, lungs. For individuals with already existing respiratory problems, long term exposure to smog can worsen their health issues and lead to the development of cancer. Studies on ozone show that once it gets into your lungs, it can continue to cause damage even when you feel fine. All of this health issues combined, smog has the dire potential to massively reduce an individual’s life span.
The people most at risk are those who suffer from heart and lung problems. Many of these problems are more common in seniors, making them more likely to experience the negative effects of air pollution. Children can be more sensitive to the effects of air pollution because their respiratory systems are still developing and they tend to have an active lifestyle. Even healthy young adults breathe less well on days when the air is heavily polluted.
Tackling the smog issue will require continuous, concerted effort which needs to include policy change and the implementation of measures that ensure the decrease of emissions from vehicles and industries. Oftentimes these emissions are unregulated because vehicles are not required to ensure proper maintenance.
Along with this, the practise of crop burning in Punjab needs to be regulated. In the past years, it has started to become more and more popular among farmers and research has proven that this also results in the creation of smog.
Additionally, Pakistan does not have a refinery that can give fuel worth Euro Standard 2, 3, or 4. The consumers are sold low grade fuel and charged prices for high grade. This has aggravated the emission level in urban transport, especially those vehicles with two-stroke engines, like rickshaws.
It worth looking into technological solutions instead of administrative ones. Some critics have suggested looking into solar rickshaws The government should also invite private companies into transportation sector, such as Airlift and SWVL. It is also worth looking at other South Asian countries to see how they are tackling the same issue. In Beijing for instance, they have adopted strict vehicle fitness rules; one day odd number vehicles are allowed on roads and other day even. Similar initiatives can be set in Pakistan to see whether they make a difference to the health crisis.
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