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EDITORIAL: Prime minister Imran Khan inaugurated this year’s tree plantation campaign by planting a sapling in the Jilani Park of Lahore, one of the world’s most polluted cities. Voicing a common lament, he said, the city’s tree cover had reduced by 70 percent during the last 13 years. As a result, the usual winter season fog has been replaced by smog - a killer that causes all sorts of life threatening diseases. Notably, the day he expressed this lament Lahore was engulfed in a thick blanket of smog with the air quality index soaring to a hazardous 470 mark. The tree plantation drive in the city is to cover 51 Miyawaki urban forests – named after a Japanese botanist who introduced a new concept of building forests ten times faster and 30 times denser than usual. The PM is also to kick off a massive olive trees plantation drive which, as per the technical advice, he said he had received, can be grown on the right side of the River Indus. This initiative is aimed at starting local production of olive oil - a healthier alternative to most imported edible oil varieties - to reduce the import bill.

Trees, needless to say, are the best defence against environmental pollution and effects of global warming that this country has been experiencing during the last many years. They not only absorb carbon and generate oxygen but also regulate precipitation, help arrest desertification, preserve ecosystems, and decrease the impact of floods that have become a regular occurrence. Sadly, instead of growing more trees the existing forests have been mercilessly destroyed. As the PM noted, the forests of Chhanga Manga, Kundian in Mianwali as well as those in Deepalpur and Chichawatni have been denuded without a care for environmental consequences. The story in other provinces is not any different. The new plantation campaign has appropriately been promoted under the slogan “Plant before it’s too late.” To create a better awareness, Khan has asked provincial governments to involve students of schools, colleges, and universities in the activity so they know it is about securing their own future. He also called for business people’s participation in the Miyawaki project through donations, though he could not suppress the urge to say that they were usually reluctant to pay due taxes on their incomes.

Creditably for Imran Khan he has shown a serious commitment to combat environment pollution. His parry‘s government in KP started a ‘billion trees tsunami’. And soon after becoming PM he launched the “100 billion trees” drive. Two major sources of pollution being vehicular traffic running on substandard gasoline, and industries failure to act socially responsible, he also announced several measures to rid Lahore in particular and other parts of the country in general of pollution. These included allowing only the sale of high grade Euro - 4 motor gasoline to be upgraded to Euro-5 after a year; three-year time for oil refineries to upgrade their plants in accordance with new emission standards; import of stubble removal machinery and provision of assistance to brick kilns –the two big contributors to smog in Lahore- for switching over to a safer zigzag technology; and certain concessions for the polluting industries to control hazardous emissions. Two years on, as the air quality index showed on Friday, smog still blights the atmosphere in Lahore. Along with the Miyawaki project, which will take time to come to fruition, the government needs to focus its attention on making all polluters comply with the required standards.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021