The alarming levels of smog in Lahore are once again causing major concerns for the denizens of Lahore while the authorities appear to be failing in their duties. Though the city traffic police has announced various initiatives to tighten the control on polluting vehicles, according to reports there are still over 40 per cent vehicles that emit smoke and contribute to the smog. The registered number of vehicles in Lahore has increased to seven million, and if 40 per cent are emitting toxic fumes in the atmosphere the number of such vehicles must be at least three million. This is a staggering number of polluting vehicles for any city. The provincial capital of Punjab is not the only city that is facing this problem; the increasing surge in the number of motorcycles and ramshackle buses and vans across the country has become a serious threat to the environment.
Nowhere in Pakistan is there an effective mechanism to award fitness certificates to vehicles. In nearly all major cities in the world there is restriction on vehicles that lack proper fitness certificates, but not in this country. Even cars and other light vehicles such as auto rickshaws have become a major contributor to air pollution resulting in smog. In addition to the registered vehicles there is a large number of unregistered ones on the roads both in rural and urban areas. It is not only the smog that these vehicles contribute to, there is perennial traffic congestion too on most roads across the country. Lahore is one of those cities which witnesses massive gridlocks regularly on main arteries and side roads. And such busy areas are mostly the most affected by air pollution and smog.
Pakistan is a country that spends huge amounts on the import of fuels from other countries. With increasing traffic mess there is more smoke in the air and the country also ends up spending more on fuel imports. A large chunk of the cost of this fuel and the smog in the cities can be tackled if the state and the government were to focus on providing affordable public transport to all. Not public transport that is taken only as a last resort – but public transport that is accessible to all, regardless of gender or age or class. We need buses and trains, not cars and motorbikes. Until Pakistan gets its major cities’ transportation woes in order the air in those cities will just continue to keep getting smoggier. Granted that vehicular smoke is not the only factor leading to the toxic air we are breathing, but it certainly does add considerably to it. For the health of both our pockets and our persons, a public transport system is most essential.