Pakistan is ranked number one on something, but thats nothing to be proud of. In the latest ranking by World Health Organization (WHO), Pakistan tops the chart in being the country with the worst air pollution. It leads all its rivals in South Asia and Middle East on that count.
The WHOs latest Ambient Air Pollution database measures the air pollution levels of 1,600 cities across 19 countries by estimating mean annual exposures of the urban population to fine particulate matter like PM10 or PM2.5. Where PM2.5 measurements can directly be linked to estimates of health risks and is a better indicator as it is more detrimental, PM10 measurements first need to be converted to PM2.5, but are more easily measured especially in low- and middle-income countries.
The report highlights that at least 80,000 hospitalisation cases with compromised respiratory system are reported each year in Pakistan due to the countrys pollution level. Many a times, these pollutants also turn fatal, killing thousands each year.
A developing country like Pakistan is resource-constrained and combating air pollution certainly ranks low on policy priorities. Even the most pressing problem issues of security breakdown and law and order have struggled to attract the required funding and policy focus. No wonder then that social sector issues like healthcare and education have remained under-financed, what to talk of environment protection.
Earlier this year, the World Bank (WB) had also described Pakistan's urban air pollution as the most severe and damaging problem for the countrys environment and economy. Until corrective measure with collaborative interventions are taken the future is gloomier. WB has also predicted that the level of pollutants in the air will get worse with time as industrialisation, motorisation and urbanisation continue to grow unchecked.
The latest WHO rankings should not be taken by surprise as WB had also warned in its study that ambient concentrations of health-damaging particulate matters are on average more than four times above levels recommended in WHO guidelines in Pakistan.