FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 19

Climate change the biggest threat to Pakistan

Pakistan suffered over $40bn losses from its recent floods. Heavy rains and hailstorms in Punjab in March may impact its wheat production badly and threaten food security in the country. The recent losses show that climate change has become Pakistan’s biggest challenge, which not only threatens its people but also an already struggling economy.

Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events in Pakistan, such as floods, droughts, and heatwaves. These events are causing significant economic and social damage, especially in rural areas. Pakistan is already facing a severe water crisis, and climate change is worsening the situation. The melting of glaciers in the Himalayas, which provide water to many of Pakistan’s rivers, is causing water shortages and disrupting agriculture.

Climate change is adversely affecting agricultural productivity in Pakistan. Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns are reducing crop yields and increasing the prevalence of pests and diseases. The changing weather pattern is also causing an increase in the incidence of vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever and malaria, as well as water-borne diseases such as diarrhea and cholera.

Besides natural causes, Pakistan also faces problems because of a lack of awareness among the public about environmental issues and persistent inaction by the government. The country is facing a severe pollution crisis that is affecting the health and well-being of its citizens. The country is home to some of the world’s most polluted cities, with air, water, and soil pollution posing significant threats to public health and the environment.

Air pollution is a significant problem in Pakistan, particularly in its major cities. The primary sources of air pollution include industrial emissions, vehicular traffic, burning of solid waste, and the use of low-quality fuels such as coal and wood. According to the World Air Quality Report 2020, Pakistan’s major cities, including Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad, have consistently ranked among the most polluted cities globally.

Lahore jumped more than 10 places to become the city with the worst air in the world in 2022, according to an annual global survey by a Swiss maker of air purifiers. The report by IQAir also said that Chad in central Africa had replaced Bangladesh as the country with the most polluted air last year. IQAir measures air quality levels based on the concentration of lung-damaging airborne particles known as PM2.5. Its annual survey is widely cited by researchers and government organisations.

According to the report, Lahore’s air quality worsened to 97.4 micrograms of PM2.5 particles per cubic meter from 86.5 in 2021, making it the most polluted city globally. Hotan, the only Chinese city in the top 20, followed Lahore with PM2.5 levels of 94.3, an improvement from 101.5 in 2021. The next two cities in the rankings were Indian: Bhiwadi, on Delhi’s outskirts had pollution levels at 92.7, and Delhi followed close behind at 92.6. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a maximum PM2.5 concentration of 5 micrograms per cubic meter.

While Chad had an average level of 89.7, Iraq, which had the second most polluted air for a country, averaged 80.1. Pakistan, which had two of the five cities with the worst air in 2022, stood third in the country-wide ranking at 70.9, followed by Bahrain at 66.6. Bangladesh’s air quality improved from 2021, when it was tagged as the country with the worst air. It is ranked fifth in the latest report, with PM2.5 levels coming down to 65.8 from 76.9.

India has some of the most polluted cities in the world, but ranked eighth in the latest report, with PM2.5 levels at 53.3. The report said India and Pakistan experienced the worst air quality in the Central and South Asian region, where nearly 60pc of the population lives in areas where the concentration of PM2.5 particles is at least seven times higher than WHO’s recommended levels. It said one in 10 people globally were living in an area where air pollution poses a threat to health.

The impact of air pollution on public health is severe, with respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer on the rise in Pakistan. According to the Global Burden of Disease study, ambient air pollution caused over 128,000 premature deaths in Pakistan in 2019, making it the fourth leading risk factor for deaths and disability in the country.

Water pollution is another significant environmental problem in Pakistan. Industrial waste, agricultural runoff, and untreated sewage are the primary sources of water pollution, which has led to the contamination of water bodies and groundwater reserves. According to a report by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), about 60pc of Pakistan’s population does not have access to safe drinking water. The consequences of water pollution are severe and far-reaching, with waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever causing illness and death. In addition, the contamination of water bodies has led to a decline in fish populations and loss of biodiversity.

Soil pollution, also known as land pollution, is another significant environmental problem in Pakistan. The primary sources of soil pollution include industrial waste, agricultural runoff, and the improper disposal of hazardous waste. The contamination of soil can lead to the loss of fertility and a decline in crop yields, which can have severe economic consequences. The impact of soil pollution on public health is also significant, with the potential for toxic substances to enter the food chain and cause illness and disease.

The pollution crisis in Pakistan is a significant threat to public health and the environment. The government of Pakistan must take immediate action to address the problem by implementing stricter regulations and investing in cleaner technologies. Public awareness campaigns and education programs can also help to create a culture of environmental responsibility and sustainability. Addressing pollution in Pakistan requires a collaborative effort from all stakeholders, including the government, industry, and the public. By working together, we can create a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable Pakistan.

Rising sea levels due to climate change are causing coastal erosion and threatening the livelihoods of people who depend on fishing and tourism. Overall, climate change is having a significant impact on Pakistan, and urgent action is needed to mitigate its effects and build resilience in the face of these changes.