EDITORIAL: Air quality is bad in Lahore all through the year but winter months are the worst when the city is engulfed in a thick smog, alternating with New Delhi to take the first or second spot as the world’s most polluted city. For a while, smog has emerged as a regular feature of Lahore as pollutants originating from factories, rice stubble burning, brick kilns, vehicular traffic and some other sources get trapped in the lower atmosphere. On Wednesday, air quality in the city was recorded at 386, much above the hazardous level of 300. Meanwhile, the government has gotten off to a late start. During the recent days the district administration sealed 21 industrial units for non-compliance with emission standards; many farmers though have continued to burn rice stubble despite warnings and the threat of a fine.
Chairing a meeting of the provincial cabinet committee on smog the other day, Punjab Minister for Finance Makhdoom Hashim Jawan Bakht said all vehicles creating pollution should be removed from roads and factories and brick kilns using old methods sealed immediately. The campaign can have the desired effect if run on a regular basis. Smog gets attention because it can be seen, but particulate matter hanging in the air at all times is a constant health hazard, causing all sort of serious health problems, including acute respiratory and cardiovascular issues. Vehicular traffic being a major contributor to pollution, the minister offered several seemingly unrealistic solutions to the citizens, such as that they should use one vehicle per household during the smog period. This could work had there been an efficient mass transit system. Indeed, there is a Metro Bus service and Orange Line trains but they cover only a minuscule section of the population. Furthermore, he suggested that parents should use buses and vans for pick and drop of their children to and from educational institutions. Some are already doing that, but the privileged ones are not going to conform no matter what anyone says. He also said electric vehicles should be promoted and their purchase facilitated which, again, is neither here nor there.
What can make a difference was his directive to filling stations to sell Euro-5 petrol and diesel though only for the next month, and that they should stop marketing Euro-2 during this period. To most consumers, it would be a bit of a shock to learn that despite the government having made it mandatory for the petroleum industry to switch over to Euro-5 by January of the current year, they are still being sold low quality fuel. In fact, in Lahore at present there are only two PSO-run filling stations offering Euro-5 gasoline and diesel. Despite the efforts of this as well as the previous government, the oil refineries have refused to upgrade their facilities as that entails substantial financial investments. Only one out of five refineries is Euro-5 compliant, all others continue to produce Euro-2 fuel. In the meantime, vehicular emissions together with other pollutants are playing havoc with public health. Effective long-term measures are needed to reduce ubiquitous air pollution which turns into wintertime smog in Lahore and down the plains of Punjab.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021