Pakistan has a lot of air pollution and smog, especially during the dry and cold months of November through January.
In big cities like Lahore, Faisalabad, and Gujranwala, life stops in the winter because it is so cold and dry for so long. This has made the situation in central Punjab worse over the past ten years.
When things get back to normal, we forget how bad it was and wait for it to happen again next year. We haven’t used scientific methods to solve the problem, which is what other advanced countries have done in the past.
The National Environment Quality Standards (NEQS) and the Pakistan Environment Protection Act of 1997 do not apply to the air quality in Pakistan’s biggest cities.
Recent reports and measurements, like the Air Quality Index (AQI), show that Lahore is the most unhealthy city, with a reading of 158, and that Islamabad is unhealthy for sensitive people, with a reading of 149.
The main things that make the air quality bad are emissions from factories, vehicles, and homes, dust from construction, smoke from brick kilns, and soot from burning agricultural waste.
Polluted air is thick, which makes it easy for smog to form in the winter. Smog causes heavy economic losses by making it hard for people to talk to each other. It also kills people through poor health and accidents.
Poor visibility caused by smog makes it hard to go about daily life. It also affects transportation, communication, health services, biodiversity, and causes human and economic losses.
It has been said that 43% of smog is caused by the transportation sector’s use of low-quality fuel, especially diesel. Pakistan still uses Euro-2 grade fuel because it hasn’t been able to change its policy on refineries since 1997.
We couldn’t use the clean Euro-4 to Euro-6 fuels because of this. In the same way, the recycling industry uses used fuel to power iron and steel factories and other industrial units, most of which are in cities.
Most of the pollution in the air comes from cities. In rural areas, where there are fewer sources of pollution and more open spaces, the pollution is diluted by the movement of fresh air.
Industrialization causes smog, which is a problem all over the world. At the start of the 1950s, Europe had a lot of smog because of the industrial revolution.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, major industrial hubs in the US and Japan had to deal with smog because of industrial growth.
Transportation by air, road, and rail had been messed up for weeks and months, so people wore face masks to stay safe. To get rid of smog, they made a system for monitoring air quality and rules and standards for air quality.
Putting these laws into place and keeping a close eye on them has helped them control pollution and the controlling smog that comes with it.
In the 1950s and 1960s, advanced countries were in the same situation as Pakistan is in now. In controlling smog in the country, we need to learn from the case studies that worked and use the same tools and methods.
Pakistan is a member of the UN Environment Programme’s global and regional forums, so it has access to technology and resources that can help make the air cleaner.
Some of the global and regional initiatives are the Asia-Pacific Clean Air Partnership and the Male Declaration, which are both about keeping an eye on the air quality in South Asia.
In the late 1990s, eight South Asian countries put the Male Declaration into action after the South Asia Environment Programme’s governing council approved it at a meeting in Male, Maldives, in April 1998.
Under this declaration, South Asian countries share information about the quality of the air with other member countries so that monitoring can be done better.
At the borders of member countries, well-equipped stations were set up to check the air quality. Pakistan set up two of these stations, which are still there near Bahawalpur, Punjab, and Tharparkar, Sindh, on the border with India.
The arrangement worked well until the end of its fourth phase in 2012-2013. Since then, there hasn’t been an active phase that would mess up the trans-boundary monitoring system.
Through sharing data, this has turned out to be a great way to keep an eye on the air quality. It has also stopped South Asian countries from pointing fingers when pollution moves from one place to another.
Getting rid of air pollution
Since the causes of air pollution are known, it is easy to find ways to fix them through monitoring and control.
The good news is that Pakistan has the institutions and legal frameworks it needs at both the federal and provincial levels.
The Environmental Protection Agencies (EPAs) are in charge of enforcing environmental laws, but their drive is weak and shaky.
Lack of the right number of air quality monitoring tools and lack of support from the main authorities are the main reasons why monitoring and controlling air pollution aren’t working well.
The problem has gotten worse because people aren’t aware of it and because environmental tribunals aren’t doing their jobs well or quickly enough. It has been seen that most environmental tribunals don’t work because they don’t have enough people to make decisions.
Delays in handling complaints have always helped the people who broke the rules at the expense of the air quality in cities. The fines given by the courts are so low that people who break the rules are actually encouraged to keep polluting the environment.
The system for monitoring and controlling air quality needs to be made better in terms of its ability to do its job and its ability to enforce laws. To make sure that people always have clean air, monitoring and controlling the air quality must be consistent and ongoing.
The next step
Like other environmental issues, monitoring the air quality involves a lot of different people and groups. A long-term solution may require new ways of thinking.
The following suggestions might help policymakers, planners, and agencies in charge of putting plans into action come up with good ones.
First, you need to figure out who is involved, including both polluters and regulators at all levels.
Two, make people aware of the problem with a smart community mobilisation project.
Third, make a programme to get people in the areas of interest involved in the work and give them incentives to do so.
Four, build up the skills of stakeholders based on what role they will play in controlling and monitoring air pollution.
Five, change the rules so that they both encourage sharing power with communities and make it easier to enforce them indefinitely.
Sixth, find alternatives to pollution-causing things like transportation, industry, construction, solid waste, and agricultural waste that are both economically and socially viable.
Seven, come up with strategies that can be put into action and are based on goals and outputs that can be measured and accomplished.