SMOG AN ALARMING PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERN IN PAKISTAN

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Sumayya Khalid

SMOG AN ALARMING PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERN IN PAKISTAN

The chemical reaction of volatile organic compounds, oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and sunlight produce particulate matter (PM) and ground-level ozone (O3). Ozone is present in the 2 layers of the atmosphere. Its first layer is present in higher levels in the atmosphere which shields earth against harmful ultraviolet rays traveling from the sun toward earth. While the second layer of O3 is present as a secondary pollutant at the ground level. Ozone is considered as a trans-boundary problem because of its transportation toward long distances in the atmosphere. Brick kilns, burning of the crop, traffic and industrial emissions are considered key factors of these air pollutants. These pollutants in combination with fog give rise to smog which causes severe health issues, flight disruption, and serious road accidents. Over the last few years, the smog problem has grown worse during winter months due to higher air pollution and poor air quality caused by increased industrial and vehicular emissions. Even permanent haze can be observed during summer which after rain is relieved only for a short duration.

According to AirVisual (air quality monitor), in terms of air quality, Karachi and Lahore are among 10 most polluted cities in the world. India’s Mumbai, Kolkata, and New Delhi also occupy spots in the top 10.

According to Pakistan Air Quality Initiative (PAQI) data, the air quality of almost all major cities of Pakistan exceeds safe limits, with Lahore 9x worse than guidelines. In 2017 just 2 days of good air quality were recorded in Lahore. Polluted air causes severe health issues, including eye infections, throat irritation, respiratory system failure, lung infections, allergies, and heart diseases. It is the leading cause of sickness which reduces life expectancy by five years. Approximately 135,000 deaths are reported every year in the country. Fiscal burden of air pollution on Pakistan’s economy is estimated to be 5.88% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Approximately $47.8 billion are spent to curb air pollution in the country.

In August Dr.Mujtaba Piracha (Lahore Division Commissioner) informed that it is the time to implement strict measures to fight smog in the season starting from October till the end of December. He said section 144 will be implemented on burning leftover crop stubble. Officials were directed to form district smog control committees consisting of members from the agriculture, environment, police departments and industries to create awareness and sensitize farmers. He also added brick kilns would remain closed from October 20 till the end of December to control smog.

According to the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency, the government has also ordered that all brick kilns be transformed into zigzag technology. In brick kilns, an interior zigzag construction combined with an air blower may slash the coal consumption, significantly control harmful emissions and improve the produced brick quality, said by Malik Amin Aslam, advisor to PM Imran Khan on climate change problems. Zigzag technology is an energy efficient and environmentally friendly technology. It uses about 30-40% less energy than conventional kilns, cutting the costs of produced bricks by up to half. Additionally, it decreases carbon emissions by more than 70%. Transforming a traditional brick kiln to zigzag technology costs about $15,000 to $20,000.

According to Misbah-ul-Haq Khan Lodhi, Deputy Director PEPD (Punjab Environment Protection Department) Smoke emitting factories and steel melting furnaces had also been directed to control pollution. Also, he added that the department had earlier issued directions to 337 industries and steel melting furnaces to plant trees to overcome smog and industrial pollution.

A senior officer of EPD, Nasim-ur-Rehman Shah said, “all steel mills and furnaces had also been said to install dry scrubbers instantly; if not, severe legal action would be taken under the Punjab Environmental Protection Act, 1997 (Amended 2012), and their units would be closed under Section 16 of the Environmental Act. He told that we cannot end smog at all but we are trying to diminish it by various steps at all levels”.

Precautionary measures

Smog has different effects on different people. Some people are more vulnerable to the negative effects of smog.

  • To reduce exposures to smog, avoid being outdoors near heavy traffic areas.
  • Avoid outdoors exhausting work.
  • Use face masks to avoid throat, nose, eye infections and breathing problems.
  • Use at least 6-8 glasses of water comprising hot fluids to the everyday routine that would help to rinse out the toxins.
  • When at home, close windows and other air inlets.
  • People suffering from asthma should be especially careful during smoggy days. They should keep their inhaler with them all the times.
  • While driving, drive slow and use headlights and fog lights.

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