Pollution prize – 16 Mar 2023
Lahore has claimed the extremely dubious honour of being the most polluted city in the world, with a concentration of 97.4 micrograms of PM2.5 particles in the air, according to a report compiled by IQAir. The situation of Lahore is an extremely dangerous one for its residents, given that the WHO recommends a PM2.5 concentration of no higher than 5.0 micrograms per cubic metre. Peshawar ranked as the fifth most polluted city in terms of air quality, while the country as a whole is the third most polluted in the world. India also fared badly with two of its cities, Bhiwadi on the outskirts of Delhi and New Delhi itself, ranking as third and fourth most polluted cities in the world, respectively, while India ranked as the eighth most polluted country in the world. However, it is worth noting that our air pollution problems are by no means irredeemable. Bangladesh, which had the unenviable rank of most polluted air in the world in 2021, improved by five spots in the 2022 rankings, showing that significant improvement is possible in a short amount of time.
While it is necessary for our national authorities to take urgent steps to tackle the air pollution crisis, the patterns that emerge in the rankings call for global action as well. As we can observe, the poorer and less industrialized countries, counterintuitively, tend to have the worst air quality. Those familiar with the issue will know that developing countries often rely on less safe and efficient and more polluting manufacturing and energy generation methods due to lack of funds and technology. This belies the widely-held notion that economic growth is inimical for the environment and calls for the world to pay more attention to economic development and aid in the interests of solving pollution and climate change. Institutions like the IMF, World Bank and the United Nations must do more to encourage economic growth and development in the Global South, rather than imposing anti-growth austerity measures. Furthermore, many of the countries with the worst levels of air pollution tend to have lax environmental and pollution regulations. Hence, companies in the developed world are able to export their most polluting activities to these countries, where they will draw less regulatory scrutiny.
All else aside, there is one reality that almost every citizen in Lahore and Peshawar will agree on. They are breathing in poison. People are already dependent for clean water and gas on their own resources, buying bottles of water if they can afford to do so, using filtered water if they can manage it, and purchasing gas cylinders when this is feasible. Now they must also purchase air purifiers if they are among the more wealthy in the city, and find ways to keep themselves safe from the toxins in the air.