Editorial: The suffocating smog

WEB DESK: Nature is unforgiving. With it you tinker a bit and it takes revenge, as it is doing with the city of Lahore and some parts of central Punjab.

Over the last couple of days, the entire region is enveloped in a thick blanket of smog. It’s not fog, that some thought arrived earlier than usual. It is fog plus a host of toxic elements. According to the Met Office, it comprises nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur oxide and other aerosols. Resultantly, hundreds of people have suffered breathing problems and eye irritation. And as it reduced visibility there were traffic accidents on the highways. At least 16 people were killed in traffic accidents on the motorway and another four elsewhere.

In Lahore, the smog is all the more thick not only because the steel mills in the neighbourhood burn trash like used tyres and there is heavy vehicular traffic but also because of a heavy layer of dust hanging in air all along the under construction Orange Line. Other factors precipitating smog are believed to be excessive use of fertilisers in the cotton-growing areas. One more cause for smog is said to be cross-border inflow of emissions from Indian Punjab. As if the people’s right to breathe fresh air is thanks to goodwill of authorities, the environmental concerns took the back-seat if and when the development projects are undertaken.

For example, the Environment Protection Department (EPD) of Punjab thought it expedient not to oppose the Orange Line project. Maybe, it simply did not have the capacity and expertise to forewarn that rapid industrialisation in and around urban centres and the politically-motivated development projects would play havoc with the environment. It had allowed Nespak to carry out the construction of Orange Line without trying to follow up whether the conditions mentioned in its NOC were being followed. And also nothing illustrates the EPD’s incompetence more than the fact that the Japan-gifted air-quality measuring equipment is lying dysfunctional just because there is no one is trained to run it.

Quite interestingly, as the residents of Lahore were shrouded in smog and found it difficult to breathe, Minister for Climate Change, Zahid Hamid was conveying the “positive development” to his audience at the French Embassy that Pakistan’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (Pak INDC) has been prepared and that Pakistan Climate Change Bill is being finalized. “We now look forward to implementation of the (Paris) Agreement and I am pleased to inform that that ratification of it by Pakistan is imminent.” Who cares if his words did not reflect the realities on ground in Pakistan?

Of course, in winter there is more pollution in the air because of low wind level and high particulate matter. For instance, in Lahore on Wednesday the level of carbon monoxide was 4 to 5 ppm while it should have been 1 ppm. And since the high-pressure had made, the upper air static and turned it into a kind of umbrella the pollution could not escape upwards. All in all, time has come to reassess the collateral damage rapid indoctrination in and around built-up areas, excessive use of fertilisers and growing number of vehicles are causing to the environment.

The industries must be shifted out of the populated areas; agricultural produce should be dependent on better seeds and scientific farming techniques instead of fertilisers and urban transport should be essentially bus-dependent instead of every person using his own car. Studies suggest that by enhancing availability of public transport the level of vehicular-generated pollution can be considerably brought down.

But all of this can happen only when safer environment gets priority over quick-fix development projects; greed-bred industrialisation is discouraged and departments and agencies dealing with environment are accorded equal government patronage.

Source: Business Recorder