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EDITORIAL: The country’s second largest city, Lahore, has frequently been earning the unenviable distinction of being the world’s most polluted city. With the start of the fifth smog season the city’s air pollution has been hovering between 350 and over 400 — way above the safe level of 50.

Taking notice of the hazardous levels of smog on Tuesday, the Lahore High Court directed the government to notify closure of schools in the provincial capital for at least three days a week (for the duration of smog) though a better solution would be to announce a bit longer winter holidays.

The next day, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority proclaimed that all private offices being operated by companies, private sector entities and other individuals within the territorial limits of Lahore Metropolitan Corporation should remain closed on every Friday and Saturday with immediate effect until January 15, and that their staff may work from home.

Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi also jumped into action. Declaring smog a calamity, he ordered effective implementation of a plan designed to control the factors causing smog. The word ‘effective’ is significant considering that there is nothing new in the measures he announced to deal with smog, which causes among people breathing discomfort, respiratory and heart diseases, and burning sensation in the eyes.

As per the plan, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) will liaison with the Transport and Industries Departments as well as administrative officers to ensure implementation, which includes legal action against smoke-emitting vehicles and industries producing noxious emissions, provision of modern harvesters to framers to stop them from burning rice stubble, and for the brick kilns to install the cleaner zigzag technology.

The PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) government had set forth the same steps without delivering the desired result, though. Clearly, those entrusted with carrying out the task failed to do their duty. It remains to be seen if things will be different this time around.

Separately, the Punjab Environmental Council is reported to have mulled over proposals to set up car-free zones in Lahore and allocating traffic days in some area, and that vehicles older than 30 years should stay off roads from October to December.

All these measures and proposals are important, but of a transient nature. Smog can be seen since particulate matter mixes with smoke and fog reducing visibility, but air quality is no less hazardous throughout the year in all major cities, including Karachi, which is not far behind Lahore. It is imperative therefore to devise a comprehensive, long-term plan to diminish air pollution by dealing with root causes of the problem rather than its symptoms.

All provincial governments must provide their respective environmental protection departments with adequate manpower and financial resources so they can do their work properly. A big source of pollution is vehicular traffic using substandard petrol and diesel.

It is worth noting that when last year the Lahore administration asked people to use only euro-5 fuel, it turned out that in the entire city only two petrol stations offered that fuel.

This is because most of the oil refineries have refused to upgrade their infrastructure citing lack of resources. They need to be helped or forced to do the needful. A crying need is also an efficient mass transport system to reduce the number of air polluting private vehicles on road.

Unless and until all provincial governments, particularly the one in Punjab, get their act together pollution will continue to endanger public health.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022


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