Breathing in poison – 23 Dec 2022

A new report from the World Bank has said that while 30 per cent of air pollution in Lahore and other areas of Punjab comes from India, 70 per cent is home born. This is an issue that needs to be dealt with urgently given that air pollution is becoming an extremely acute problem, mainly in cities such as Lahore, but also Faisalabad, Multan and other areas in Punjab causing deaths due to respiratory disease, asthma, and other ailments, notably among the elderly and infants.

Lahore is among the 10 cities which make up the worst air pollution in the world. Out of these 10 cities, nine lie in South Asia and include Karachi as well as New Delhi, Mumbai and other cities in India. This year, in fact, residents of both Peshawar and Karachi have joined the people of Lahore in vocalizing their outrage over the air they are having to breathe – toxic and polluted. The repeated answer to this problem has been to tackle brick kilns which let off dangerously poisonous fumes each day, as well as to tackle emissions from factories and regular pollution caused by the number of cars, many of them emitting poisonous fumes on the roads. The lack of an efficient public transport system, which runs on clean fuel adds to the issues.

The issue has been there for years, and most recently the Lahore High Court ordered the Punjab government to take steps including the closure of schools for three days in a week to try and limit the number of vehicles on the roads. Other measures have also been suggested by courts and by environmental experts, and the government has each time promised to implement them but implementation has been nonexistent or far too limited. Where policies have been made, the focus has been on curbing emissions from already unfavourable industries, such as brick kilns, and monitoring motor vehicles. Neither of these is alone responsible for the mess – and a larger and more coherent policy framework is needed rather than satisfying the courts with some fines and challans. Air pollution is responsible for a public health emergency. China, which still has some of the most polluted cities in the world, has taken a decision to get rid of its reliance on coal power. Pakistan will have to take similarly bold initiatives so that its people can breathe in air that does not kill.

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