We were waiting for some respite from the heat and all set to welcome the winters but got blindsided by smog. The question is, did we really get blindsided by it or are we paying the price of ignoring the warning signs?
Human-made smog is a combined result of coal emissions, vehicular emissions, industrial emissions, forest and agricultural fires and photochemical reactions of these emissions. Punjab is witnessing the havoc that smog is capable of creating since late October. Yesterday I read in The News that, Dr Pervaiz Amir, an eminent environmentalist speaking at an event in Karachi said; “In the days to come, Karachi may face extreme dust storms, devastating cyclones and hurricanes in the Arabian Sea as well as smog.”
This should be a wakeup call for anyone who thinks that this is an isolated provincial or regional issue that they can conveniently ignore. Environmental issues have a snowball impact, if not catered to in time.
If the smog situation worsens, the consequences will grow in their intensity as well, from mild eye and throat irritation, minor pains to severe pulmonary diseases and potential cancer risks. The highly affected people include old people, kids and those with cardiac and respiratory complications as they have easy tendency to be at disadvantage of asthma.
In 2015 only, almost 60,000 Pakistanis died from the high level of fine particulate matter in the air, among the highest death tolls in the world from air pollution, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As South Asia’s most urbanized country, Pakistan contends with increasing challenges from the increase in motor vehicles in cities. In the last decade, more than 11m cars appeared on the roads in Pakistan’s most populous province, representing a growth of almost 30%, according to a report from the Punjab environmental protection department (EPD). The polluting practice on agricultural land is common in Pakistan’s Punjab, resulting in plumes of toxic smoke carrying over to the neighbourhoods of Lahore.
The WHO sets a standard safe PM 2.5 level (air pollutant) in a 24 hours period at 25 µg/m3, while the latest readings for Lahore are fluctuating between PM 450 and 500!