NationalVolume 13 Issue # 07

Pakistan needs cleanliness

How difficult it is to avoid the conclusion that the thick smog that envelopes the Punjab, is a metaphor for the socio-political miasma that prevails over the country. Not only political, economic, social and judicial corruption but also water, noise and air pollution have affected the country and its people badly. In fact, through their ill-advised policies, our venal and inept rulers, including corrupt policy makers, politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats, have put the very existence of the state and its people in jeopardy.  The people of Pakistan are drinking poisonous water, eating contaminated food and breathing the air which is poisonous. The most tragic thing is that the rulers are doing nothing to protect the country and its people from both corruption and pollution.
Due to this air pollution and smog, the much-awaited three-match T20 series between Pakistan and the West Indies is expected to be postponed. According to a Pakistan Cricket Board official, “the thick blanket of smog in Lahore, [where the matches were expected to be held], and the commitment of West Indies’ major players to the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) became the main reasons for the postponement of the bilateral T20 series”. “The PCB and the West Indies Cricket Board had agreed that West Indies will tour Pakistan in November, but now it is unlikely to happen because of the smog and some other reasons. The official added that the Meteorological Department had been unable to specify a timeframe for the dissipation of the smog. “Both the boards are now deliberating other possible dates for the series”.
It is a setback for the Pakistan cricket board, the government and its people who are hoping to normalise international cricket in the country. By holding the T-20 series, the state also wants to tell the world that Pakistan has defeated terrorism and extremism. The country is, now, peaceful and secure for holding any international event . The Lahore smog has defeated these efforts.  Moreover, the smog is disrupting life and the health of millions in the Punjab. Many flights, buses and trains have already been cancelled due to insufficient visibility.
There are many causes which have proved instrumental in the emergence of this foul smog across the country, especially in Lahore.
According to The Daily Times, “Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city and home to more than 10 million people unusually experiences a sudden elevated rise in air pollutants which is a combination of urban air pollution, calm wind (mainly in the winter months) and penetration of polluted air from India causing visibly dense smog that is said to have worsened over the past five years. Air pollution has emerged as a major health issue in the country causing almost 60,000 deaths because of the rising high levels of fine particulate matter in the air and Pakistan, due to its air pollution, is now listed as one of the deadliest places in the world according to a 2016 report by the World Health Organisation (WHO). An ever-increasing rise in industrial development in Punjab combines with unrestricted tree felling and vehicular emissions are the real culprits behind the rise in air pollution in Lahore, but equally so is a growing number of crop fires; coal plant emissions burning in neighbouring India are also contributing to the mix of pollutants worsening the air quality.
A recently published report by the Lancet Commission identified pollution (including air pollution) as the worst environmental culprit responsible for premature deaths and diseases in the world especially in rapidly industrialising countries like Pakistan, India, China and Bangladesh. The report claims that almost 22 percent of premature deaths in Pakistan are attributable to pollution — and this comes to about 300,000 deaths annually more than the deaths caused by road accidents in the country.
According to the latest WHO figures, there are some alarming facts that are of concern to experts about the deteriorating air quality in Lahore. Pakistan’s median exposure to pollutants like (CO) carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and other fine particulate matter is around PM 2.5, which is the most harmful concentration of pollutants in the air. According to this source, a yearly average of 68 µg/m3 of PM2.5, is a reason for Lahore being ranked at a figure of 155 (unhealthy) on the Air Quality Index. However, air pollution can reach much higher and even hazardous levels with the worst that was experienced last year in November 2016.
Similarly, data obtained from noted climate expert Dr. Mehmood Khalid confirmed on Radio Pakistan that according to fresh readings from the recently installed monitoring equipment, the level of carbon monoxide was 21.29 (milligram per metre) on the Mall Road, 17.52 in Mohlanwal, and 6.94 in Gulberg’s Liberty Market as against the maximum permissible limit of 5.
Shahid Javed Burki, a prominent Pakistani economist and former federal minister, writes:  “The damage pollution is doing to Pakistan is well illustrated by some of the numbers given in a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) about the ill effects on health resulting from poor quality of the air most Pakistanis now breathe. According to WHO, the mortality rate in Pakistan attributed to household and ambient pollution per 100,000 of the population was 87.2 in 2012. Then the population of Pakistan was 178 million, which means that 155,000 deaths in that year were the result of atmospheric pollution. A comparison of this number with the deaths related to terrorist activities is revealing. In the 14-year period between 2003 and 2017, Pakistan lost 62,574 people to terrorism. This means that on average the country has been losing 4,500 persons a year to violence. However, air pollution is taking 30 times as many lives”.
All the above-mentioned facts and figures demonstrate the gravity of the situation. But, unfortunately, the PML-N and its corrupt leaders are hardly bothered by these dreadful facts. They have plundered the country and its people by earning massive kickbacks from the mega projects like motorways, flyovers, underpasses, overpasses, orange and yellow metro lines, etc.  There is no doubt the Sharifs have turned Lahore, once the city of gardens, into  a veritable concrete jungle where they have used iron from their own factories. The PML-N has been ruling the province for more than twenty years. While, Shahbaz Sharif is about to complete his unbroken ten years rule in the province. The Sharifs have not focused on the real indicators of human development like education, health, including clean drinking water, pure food and pollution free environment for all the people of the province. The Sharifs fully know that Pakistan is one of the worlds’s most water stressed countries.  But, without any fear of law or remorse, the PML-N government is cutting down trees continuously in Lahore. Then, there is untreated industrial waste, sewage and solid waste management and environmental unfriendly industry which are creating pollution in the province. The Supreme Court should take action against these anti-people policies of the corrupt PML-N government. The media, electronic, print and social, should also play its role by informing and educating the people about this very important issue. If no strict action is taken against the PML-N’s ill-advised policies and massive corruptions against the Sharifs, by the state, nature will take its course by turning the country into an acrid waste-land.