In 2021, the World Air Quality Report declared Pakistan the second most polluted country in the world, and Peshawar was the ninth most polluted city globally. A report on the status of air pollution in Peshawar published by the Sustainable Energy & Economic Development (SEED) programme and the Peshawar Clean Air Alliance (PCAA) in 2021 found that the annual Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) in Peshawar has ranged between 61.40 μg/m3 and 80.09 μg/m3, exceeding the WHO’S acceptable standards by 12–16 times and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s own environmental quality (EQ) standards by 4–5 times.
The report, taken seriously by the KP Govt, had highlighted that such unhealthy air quality takes 2.3 years off the life of an average person living in Peshawar. With numerous industries, a population of more than 4 million, and 1 registered vehicle for every 6 persons in the city (based on 2017 census), the anthropogenic impact is significant in terms of gaseous and solid air pollutants.
This in turn leads to considerable environmental and public health burden on the province. It also highlighted the main sources of air quality pollutants: transport, industry, domestic solid-fuel usage, municipal waste burning, and dust. Between 2012 and 2020, the number of registered vehicles in Peshawar rose by 85%, while a larger increase (168.8%) was noted motorbikes and scooters. Peshawar also has the highest concentration of industry in the province and generates the most solid waste. Consumption of various fossil fuels across these sectors and burning activity are the drivers of air pollution in the city. Among these sources, transport emissions contribute more than half (58.46%), followed by dust, domestic sector, industry, waste-burning, and lastly commercial activity.
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Despite such a dire situation, Peshawar lacked real-time ambient air monitoring, and year-long data for recent years did not exist. The FCDO-funded SEED programme, Peshawar Clean Air Alliance, and the Bank of Khyber, under directions of KP Govt, partnered to address this data deficit by creating a network of air quality monitors in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. What started off as a network of three crowd-funded and donated monitors in Peshawar in early 2021 will now be expanded to a province-wide network of twenty-three monitors. The Department of Environment, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa proactively helped identify locations in light of the findings of the PCAA-SEED report: areas with high traffic and industrial activity, especially those that are also near pockets of high population density. The Bank of Khyber team worked closely with IQAir, a Swiss air quality technology company, and has successfully procured 20 new air quality monitors.
These monitors will be installed on selected branches of the Bank of Khyber throughout Peshawar, as well as in main urban centers and divisional headquarters throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, by the end of the year. It will be the largest active and first-of-its kind air quality monitoring network in Pakistan. Live data from these monitors will be publicly available on the Peshawar Clean Air Alliance and IQAir websites. This data can then be used by researchers, academics, journalists, students, and especially the government, to create the evidence they need for informed policymaking to tackle the issue of air pollution in KP.
The SEED and PCAA report, followed by the Bank of Khyber’s staunch support and immediate action on this issue, has now stirred an important debate around the issue of air pollution in KP. It is increasingly being highlighted on mainstream and social media and is becoming part of the public policy discourse. The data coming in from these monitors will further improve public awareness around the issue. The Department of Transport are also important stakeholders, responding proactively to the findings to start finding ways to reduce the emissions per vehicle and the number of vehicles on the road.
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They have already begun taking steps to strengthen its Vehicular Emissions Testing System (VETS) and has conducted several awareness campaigns across the province. Similarly, the Forestry, Environment & Wildlife Department has been proactively pursuing this concern and also presented the findings and recommendations of the air pollution report to the Chief Secretary KP and the provincial Cabinet, who have since issued directives aimed at curbing the pollution at source. The Department has been working closely with SEED, PCAA, and the Bank of Khyber, to streamline all efforts to improve the air quality of the region and avoid any duplication. While there is still quite a long way to go, the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, especially the Bank of Khyber’s endorsement and significant contribution, has come at the right time and put the province on track—well ahead of others—in the national and global fight for a clean air future.