Death in the Air – A Dilemma Costing Pakistan Money & Lives – Air quality in Pakistan still remains the largest environmental health concern.
As today is the first day of the new year and the new decade, I thought it was the right time to write a piece on how air quality in Pakistan has become one of the most protuberant health concerns in the recent times, and what can be done in the next decade to improve this situation.
According to a study published by World Bank, air quality is the fourth largest risk factor for death affecting mainly the elders and young children. The most notable health risks resulting from air pollution include but are not limited to lung cancer, heart diseases and stroke, allergies and chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma.
Deteriorating Air Quality in Punjab Province
Pakistan face several environment pollution challenges but none is more obvious and dangerous than air pollution that keeps growing with each passing day. The most foremast contributors to air pollution in Pakistan include but are not limited to ash and dust rising from burning fields in rural area, increasing industrialization and motorization, and household air pollution.
Particulate matter (PM) is the air pollutant associated with the health effects. PM2.5 is fine particulate air pollution that penetrates deep into the human body. Recent evidence suggests that exposure to PM2.5 at even lower concentrations may increase the risk of fatal health conditions. The amount of particulate matter (PM10) in Pakistan’s air is among the world’s highest—twice the levels in China and India, reported to World Health Organisation.
Other notable air pollutants that are sure to increase environmental and health hazards in Pakistan include volatile organic carbons, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and ozone (O3) which is also only second to PM2.5 in terms of the severity of the damages caused to health. Unfortunately, there is no system in place in Pakistan to observe the actual levels of PM2.5
Punjab’s South and Central Districts Are at Threat
The Punjab province particularly the southern and central districts are believed to be at the highest risk. The toxic smog in addition to the deteriorating air quality in the region is not only causing several health-related problems but are also resulting in reduced visibility on roads, and shutting down of public and private schools.
The smog lasts for 1-2 months in the region and inflicts both monetary and health damages. Pollution tends to be at its worst particularly in the 12-million strong city of Lahore near the border with India. In November 2019, schools remained shut for several days in Lahore due to dangerous levels of PM2.5 which were reported to be in excess of 500 micrograms per cubic meter of air in some areas. The World Health Organisation’s recommended safe daily maximum is a measurement of 25.
With Bamboo Toothbrushes, Purifiers, and Lawsuits; Pakistan Fights Back Against Smog
Already several privately help companies in Pakistan are running social media campaigns to increase awareness among general public of the importance of switching to a new and sustainable way of living.
Nashonuma Pakistan, a lahore based venture, is pushing people to throw away their plastic toothbrushes and replace them with eco-friendly and biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes which naturally decompose. Other eco-friendly products introduced by Nashonuma Pakistan include carbon filter face masks, bamboo straws as an alternative to plastic straws and decomposable shopping bags.
A 31-year-old Lahore based engineer Hasan Zaidi sold some 500 units of air purifiers during the winter alone to many who were concerned about the quality of air in the city. Zaidi manufactures the units on his own but admitted to refusing hundreds of orders due to lack of manpower and resources.
Ahmad Rafay Alam, one of the few environmental lawyers in Pakistan, filed a suit against the Punjab provincial government on behalf of his daughter and two other teenagers in November, saying officials having underreported the problem.
PM Imran Khan Offers Plan to Combat Smog, Improve Air Quality
The Prime Minister has said smog (fog or haze intensified by smoke or other atmospheric pollutants) had increased in Lahore owing to a 70 per cent reduction in tree cover, as well burning of paddy stubble in neighbouring India.
Smog, he added, was having an effect on the lives of residents of Lahore, which could have really disturbing consequences for our future generations.
“We have decided to import a more clean [environmental friendly] fuel, [which will meet] the Euro 4 standard,” PM Imran said. By the end of 2020, he added, Pakistan will shift to the Euro 5 emission standard, which will have a 90 per cent impact on air quality.
“People will have to decide whether they are willing to afford a slightly expensive fuel to save the lives of their loved ones,” he said.
The premier announced that oil refineries would be given three years to improve their fuel quality, else they will be forced to shut down.
“Unfortunately, people don’t perceive climate change and air pollution as an imminent threat, which is a silent killer and is affecting the entire country,” he said.
Do you agree that air quality in Pakistan is costing money and lives? Are we doing enough to improve the air quality in Punjab? What else do you can think can be done in this regard?
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