Lahore gasps for air once again | The Express Tribune


For the past few years, the advent of winters in Lahore has been known to herald not only bitter winds that cut like shards of glass but also increased air pollution and smog that leaves many puffing and wheezing in a struggle to breathe.

Where health and climate experts have been pointing at the situation to be one of the factors behind declining average life-expectancy in the region, government agencies however have been adamant on declaring air pollution and smog to be a global issue.

“Thick smoke and dust pipes out of factory chimneys throughout the year in this area. On top of that they also burn tires, the evidence of which can be found in the form of soot that plasters our factory walls,” claimed Muhammad Anwar, a resident of North Lahore where air quality has been in a slump.

Per Anwar, the condition in his area has gotten so bad over the last couple of years, one by one all of his relatives living in other parts of town have politely excused themselves from visiting his house. “My guests say that they can’t breathe when they come here, and I can’t blame them— almost everyone here suffers from some kind of respiratory disease or eye infection due to the thick, smoke-filled air,” he commented.

Residents of the area believe that all government departments have turned a blind eye to their struggle. While on the other hand, additional sources of smoke such as motor-vehicle exhausts, brick kilns and garbage-burning have been making the situation worse every day. “The city of Lahore is constantly in headlines as one of the most air polluted cities in the world, especially areas like Darugha Walaband Road, Mahmoodboti, Lahore Ring Road, Harbanspura, Salampura, Township that record concerning levels of air quality; often over 300. So how do authorities turn a blind eye to this?” the resident asked in vain.

Read Smog: die or change?

Unbeknownst to many however, the government is aware of Lahore’s ordeal of slumping air quality. At least enough to have formulated something called the Smog Reduction Taskforce, whose chairperson Ali Arshad Rana points out that the depletion of ozone is one of the most dangerous yet less talked about consequences of air pollution. “That is what leads to global warming and climate change, so it’s all linked together and rather a threat to entire human life on earth than just Lahore,” he adds.

Speaking in the regard, environmentalist Rafay Alam opines that people in Pakistan are dying due to the emission of greenhouse gases. Referring to the report of Air Quality Life Index, he said that air pollution is reducing the average age of people living in cities like Lahore by six years annually. “This is all happening today, not in the future! Harmful gases emitted from greenhouses are a major threat to our survival,” he cautioned.

According to the environmentalist, Prime Minister Imran Khan failure to attend United Nations Climate Change Summit is a testament to his government’s lack of concern for eliminating environmental pollution, despite often tooting his own horn as an environmentally inclined leader. “Some 19 countries, on one hand, are announcing the termination of all coal-fired power generation projects after 2022, while on the other hand, coal companies here are concluding major power generation agreements in the next six years. These agreements should be canceled immediately. Lahore is one of the most polluted cities in the world,” he added.

Per smog taskforce chair Arshad Rana, air pollution and smog is an issue that cannot be eradicated through enforcement alone. As well as running awareness campaigns for smog reduction, everyone needs to play their part. “We are pursuing a zero tolerance policy to prevent smog. If there is evidence of burning of remains in a field, the owner of that field will be responsible. They will be tried in the court and liable for a fine of Rs50,000. So far, cases have been registered against 400 farmers in Punjab for setting fire to crop residues and fines of more than Rs12 lakh have been imposed,” he told The Express Tribune, justifying the government’s concern for the environment.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 10th, 2021.

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