LahoreSmog, Just how bad is it?
Smog in Punjab is a public health emergency with Lahore’s air pollution exceeding safe limits by 9x. Filling the gap in air quality data and air pollution awareness, the Pakistan Air Quality Initiative releases the first-ever data set for Pakistan that spans one entire year.
LAHORE: The Pakistan Air Quality Initiative (PAQI) organized an awareness talk on Lahore’s smog crisis at Hast-o-Neest Institute of Traditional Studies & Arts in Gulberg on 28 January 2018.
According to the statistics provided by the independent air quality monitors et up by the Pakistan Air Quality Initiative community, all cities measured in Pakistan exceed safe levels for air quality recommended by the National Environmental Quality Standards for Ambient Air by the Environmental Protection Agency in Pakistan (PK-EPA). This air quality may result in serious health effects, aggravating lung and heart diseases and causing respiratory effects in the general population.
Lahore has the worst air quality, with only 2 days of good air quality in 2017, where smog has become a ‘fifth season’. “Similarly to fog, pollutants in the air are trapped within the temperature inversion layer close to the ground,” explained Abid Omar, founder of the Pakistan Air Quality Initative. “This build-up of pollutants is hazardous to health during the winter months from October to December. Citizens are advised to take precautions to avoid exposure to this dangerous air.”
The sources of air pollution in Lahore are from diesel emissions, burning of biomass (crop burning), coal combustion (brick kilns and coal power), two-stroke vehicles (motorcycles and rickshaws), industrial emissions.
Smog is a crisis in Pakistan
- Air quality in Pakistan exceeds safe limits in all major cities, with Lahore 9x worse than national guidelines (PAQI data).
- 135,000 deaths per year are attributed to ambient air pollution, making it the leading cause of sickness and death in Pakistan, as well as reduced life expectancy by 60 months. Smog is a public health emergency.
- >5.88% of GDP or $47.8 billion is the estimated economic burden of air pollution in Pakistan. Urgent action on air pollution makes economic sense.
Health effects of particulate matter in the air
Air pollution is constituted of a complex mixture of gases and particles — particles smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) is the primary pollutant of concern due to wide-ranging health effects and formation from many sources
Atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that are the major contributor to smog and related health issues. The larger PM10 particles stick to the muscoa and cause irritation in the respiratory tract, aggravating lung infections and asthma. The finer PM2.5 particles enter into the interior airways, absorb through the pulmonary vein and finally into the bloodstream via the capillary network leading the adverse effects on the cardiovascular system. They also get deep into the alveoli sacs and damage the lungs.
These particles comprise of poisonous trace metals such as copper, magnesium, zinc, selenium and arsenic, which can cause cancer and even lead to genetic evilness in later generations.
Air pollution in Punjab is a public health emergency
A study in Karachi has found that an increase in air pollution directly correlates to an increase in hospital admission rates, and exacerbation of symptoms especially in the young and the elderly. “My four year-old was advised by her doctor to avoid outdoor exercise and stay indoors,” said a Mrs. Buzdar, a concerned mom at the talk, while her daughter was wearing an anti-pollution mask throughout the talk. “My daughter has to stay home from school sometimes because of the bad air.”
Smog is a policy issue
Sarah Belal of the Justice Project Pakistan, and lawyer in Lahore, shared that the Lahore High Court has constituted a 10-member commission to come up with policy recommendations for handing smog as a public health emergency. in Punjab. She advised that this is the time to reach out to the government to enable better decision-making through capacity building.
Citizens can demand clean air
“Data forms the basis for community activism,” shared Minja Kim, a South Korean resident in Lahore, based on her grassroots movement with Dust Out, an online forum that calls for government action to improve air quality. “When I came to Pakistan, I was surprised by the serious condition of the air and the lack of awareness”. South Korea had the second worst air quality of all advanced nations. Independent citizens data made the case to the government that stricter action is required to control emissions. Thanks to citizen action, the government starting actions such as setting up air purifiers in schools, sending SMS alerts when air pollution exceeds safe limits, distributing dust-masks to vulnerable groups, encouraging public transportation and promoting environmentally-friendly policies such as clean energy.
“Regardless of where you live, you have the right to clean air. If no one protect your rights, you need to ask!”