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EDITORIAL: It turns out that Pakistan is in the middle of an air pollution crisis as well, on top of the political, financial and climate crises it is already struggling with. The latest Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) report, prepared annually by University of Chicago’s prestigious Energy Policy Institute, puts it alongside Bangladesh, India and Nepal in an area of South Asia that it calls the “global epicentre of pollution”, and warns that people in urban centres in these countries, especially, face up to a four-year reduction in life expectancy just because of the air they breathe.

While it isn’t exactly shocking that cities like Lahore, Sheikhupura, Kasur and Peshawar (mentioned in the report) have made headlines for their pollution – even if nobody quite expected them to be world champions – it is surprising that the trend of increasing urban pollution hasn’t rattled any administration at all in our long history. Even now, when the stench reaches as far as institutes dedicated to researching this subject in the other corner of the globe, Pakistani authorities remain oblivious to the effects, if not always to the presence, of air pollution.

To be fair, a state struggling to stay solvent in the face of a very real threat of sovereign default, facing some of the most bitter political wrangling ever and bracing for another skirmish, at best, with terrorists would naturally be hard pressed to give much time and consideration to pollution. But such excuses only suit the caretaker setup currently at the helm. All other administrations could at least have put it somewhere on the priority list, but they didn’t. And now our country has become one of the worst in the world in terms of pollution.

This isn’t just a Pakistani problem, of course. It concerns the subcontinent proper – Pakistan, India, Bangladesh – plus some of its neighbours. So perhaps there’s also a silver lining on this dark cloud in that it could become that one area where Islamabad and Delhi could work together; for the sake of the air their people breathe if nothing else. There’s only been very slight progress in Pakistan and Bangladesh recently because they have tried to cut down on the use of brick kilns. Otherwise, there’s not much to write home about.

There’s much to learn from China, though, as noted in the report. It has waged by far the most successful war on pollution since 2014, recording a reduction of 42.3 percent in air pollution levels between 2013 and 2021. Now, just maintaining these improvements stands to give the average Chinese citizen an additional 2.2 years of life, which is no mean feat considering how badly the country was suffering because of air pollution just a few years ago.

Rest of South Asia desperately needs to follow in China’s footsteps. Countries can and must act individually, no doubt, but since this has become a deep regional problem, they will eventually have to work together as well. Right now, Asia looks and feels like a house divided because India, for some reason, doesn’t seem to believe in teamwork. Indeed, in the near decade of BJP rule there, it has alienated almost all its surrounding countries.

Hopefully, the air quality index will do the trick where all other emergencies have failed. Asian governments have no choice but to do everything possible to reduce pollution. So they might as well do it together.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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KU Sep 03, 2023 11:56am
It's actually much more serious and depressing, especially when we are aware of the zero interest or competence of our leaders. One only needs to read the UN IPCC Sixth Assessment Report 2022, on Mitigation of Climate Change to realize the bind we are in and what is heading towards us, nothing short of armageddon. Air pollution and a host of other similar contributors to pollution in our country is an old phenomenon, and this topic has always been given no importance by our leadership. In simple words, the Desi Raj is not interested, not qualified, and certainly not aware of its impact on human health, flora and fauna, ecology or agriculture. These numerous contributors to pollution are the perfect steps towards death after a miserable time while living. It is certain that ignorance of facts on pollution or preparedness in the face of climate change is an ugly fate in the hands of our rulers and the Raj.
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