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EDITORIAL: As the winter season approaches, when Lahore has started to get enveloped in a blanket of smog frequently earning it the unsavory distinction of being the world’s most polluted city, the Punjab government has moved to take preemptive measures.

The Chief Secretary of the province recently held a meeting with officials of relevant departments where it was decided to act decisively against burning of rice crop stubble as well as industrial units and vehicles causing air pollution which gets trapped in the atmosphere due to temperature inversion, mixing with the usual winter fog to produce smog.

Anti-smog squads have now been formed in all districts, and a control room set up in the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) to oversee pollution mitigation operations. This can help to a significant extent, but smog will keep coming back unless a sustained year-round effort is made to address the causes of air pollution.

The Chief Secretary told the meeting that this year the authorities conducted 19, 000 inspections and imposed 440 fines, registered 883 cases against violators and sealed 664 industrial units for creating pollution. Reports, nonetheless, suggest some of them are still using inferior fuel, including tyre burning, which gives off carcinogenic emissions.

It’s been a while since the brick kilns were ordered either to adopt environmental friendly zig-zag technology or stay shut from November 7 till December 31 all across Punjab. Many of them remain operational without meeting the required condition. Worsening the air quality in Lahore and other major cities in Punjab as well as in the country’s megalopolis of Karachi is vehicular traffic running on substandard fuel.

It may be recalled that during last year’s smog, the Punjab government had advised people to use only Euro- 5 compliant fuel. But as it turned out, in all of Lahore only two petrol stations offered that fuel. Despite repeated government directives oil refineries have not upgraded their facilities, claiming financial constraints.

All these unrestrained factors combine to generate smog, exposing people to serious health problems such as asthma, lung damage, bronchial complications and heart issues, shortening life expectancy. The Global Alliance on Health and Pollution ranks Pakistan at 5th place among the top ten countries with pollution-related deaths.

Alarming as the situation is, provincial governments need to get their act together. Environmental protection departments should be provided with adequate resources to deal with the polluters. Substandard fuel being a major culprit, oil refineries, perhaps, can be given some help to improve the quality of petrol and diesel.

No less important is the need to reduce the volume of pollution causing vehicular traffic. The metro bus system launched in some of the big cities is not only costly in terms of infrastructure expenditure but also limited in scope.

Mass transit facilities may not be financially feasible at this point in time, but an easy and effective solution is to put lots of public sector buses on the roads. All concerned must make a concerted effort to control pollution in a manner which is commensurate with the demands of the problem.


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