Nobody is safe from air pollution. 9 out of 10 people on the planet are now breathing polluted air. Globally, it is causing about 7 million annual deaths. It is killing 800 people per hour. Worldwide 5.93% of children live in polluted areas as per WHO guidelines. 600,000 children under 15 are dying of respiratory tract infections. Air pollution is responsible for 26% deaths. It is cutting off global life expectancy to 1.8 years. Pakistan being the fifth highest air polluted country in the world is losing 2.7 years of life expectancy due to pollution.
Air pollution and smog in Pakistan
Annually 135,000 deaths are attributed to air pollution, making it the leading cause of sickness and death in Pakistan, smog is a public health emergency. 5.88% of GDP or $47.8 billion is the estimated economic burden of air pollution in Pakistan. Lahore, the most polluted district is losing 5.3 years life span of its dwellers. During several past decades Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom, have enacted and successfully enforced policies to lessen air pollution, accentuating that today’s air pollution need not be tomorrow’s fate.
Smog is a heinous hog creeping in the country and we must step forward to control the rogue. Immediate measures must be taken. Smog is diminishing the air purity and the authorities are doing nothing about it. Being unaware of the consequences, we are relishing smog. Most of the air contamination is due to vehicular and manufacturing secretion and crop burning. Vehicular traffic contributes 45%, domestic fuel burning 20% and industries and generators contribute 15% air pollution.
A total 291 air control index was recorded in Lahore last week. Airport areas 420, Gullberg 317, Uper Mall 291, Kahna 281 and FC College 255. Sundar and Quaid-e- Azam industrial states are the worst polluted zones. 45% of air pollution is caused by smoke emitting vehicles. Although, the government has claimed to collaborate with Safe City Authority to monitor smoke emission in the city, yet it seems a far cry. If the government had been so concerned, why has it not taken appropriate measures earlier? Early measures could have prevented the issue we are facing at present. Our government always cries over spilt milk.
Arrival of winter, covid-19 and smog is going to become a Bermuda triangle for Pakistanis, particularly for Lahore residents. Covid-19 is creeping again, and winters will intensify it. The symptoms of winter flue and covid-19 have many similarities. It will push the masses into psychological complexities. Mental health issues have already become unavoidable due to the pandemic, crumbling economy and price hike.
The youth is prone to crimes due to psychological pressures and the crime rate is increasing with each passing day. We lack in taking practical initiatives when it comes to public safety and awareness. 45% smoke emission by vehicular share in air pollution is reflective of the utter failure of transport authority because smoke emitting vehicles are still on the roads. Instead of questioning transport authority, we are giving heavy fines which furthers burdens the already economically burdened masses. Politicized institutions, bureaucracy and bribery have annihilated the system.
Punjab Environmental Protection Agency (PEPA) only wakes up for a few days to show its vigilance. As the smog makes its place in the news, PEPA is miraculously activated to shut down some factories, pushing hundreds of laborers to unemployment. What has PEPA been doing for 11 months of the year if they are detecting smoke emitting factors now? Can’t they do it earlier? They certainly can, but the government institutions stir at the last possible moment for tackling the issue and mostly mishandle it. Brick-kilns, factories, power plants, crop burning, smoke emitting vehicles and many other factors keep on contaminating the air round the clock throughout the year but PEPA slumbers on.
Closing air pollution contributing factors for a few weeks is not the solution. We must take solid and long-term measures to cope with the issue seriously. More than 98%, 200 million Pakistanis are inhaling polluted air as per WHO guideline for annual air pollution. 97% of our population lives in areas where we crossed our own PM2.5 standard. There has been an alarming 54% increase in PM2.5 since 1998 but no one is bothered about it.
The residents of eastern border regions in Punjab live 3.8 years less than the rest of the areas. Lahore, with a population of more than 11 million is the worst polluted. The air pollution in Lahore has increased during the last two decades. In 1998 there were 33 ug/m3 pollution concentrations while in 2016 it has doubled to 64 which is 6 times higher than WHO requirement. We can add 5.3 years to expected life span by controlling air pollution.
What needs to be done
On one hand the government is permitting coil-fire power plants and on the other hand asking the public control pollution, which is quite contradictory. Mr. PM seems quite serious about climate change and air pollution. All cats love fish but hate to get their paws wet. Mr. PM must wet his feet. We all must start a joint effort to cope with the national problem. The government should provide an alternate to the smoke producing factories and vehicles instead of shutting them down.
Read more: Air pollution makes COVID-19 more lethal
Historical review of pollution is evidence that we are not the only state facing the pollution nexus. With the dawn of the industrial era, pollution was intensified. It is a universal phenomenon but many countries like China have controlled it to its maximum level, reducing it to 32% in its cities. India has targeted 20-30% pollution reduction by following the Chinese model. We must adopt it too. If we achieve 32% pollution reduction as China has and sustain it, we would not only live 1.2 years longer on average but it will also pave way to gain 52% air quality standard and 43% in meeting the WHO guideline. The Lahoris will be lucky to live 2 more years of their present life expectancy.
Read more: Pakistan’s struggle with air pollution
The author is an English professor and a freelance columnist. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.