Anecdotal evidence suggests that it usually takes time for people to accept a crisis or a challenge really being faced and acting in public interest, at least in Pakistan. Examples include the power crisis, the water crisis, the environmental degradation and the required conservation. Smog and poor air quality that has become a regular in the country is yet another crisis that still needs broad-based acceptance, let alone any preventive measures.
It has also been seen that environmental issues are usually the last among priorities for people here, which could most likely be due to low income levels and willingness to pay for majority of the people. Besides anecdotal evidence, there is also scientific evidence that taking preventive measures and acting in the best interest for human health and sanity increases with increased disposable income and education, which goes on to show that it is not necessarily the lack of awareness, but willingness to accept and act with the resources available.
Recent polls by Gallup Pakistan show that awareness of an issue is also a concern when it comes to environmental challenges in the country. According to a recent poll by Gilani Research Foundation Survey carried out by Gallup & Gilani Pakistan, 32 percent of people in Pakistan either doubt the negative effects of climate change or do not know about them. That is a significant proportion of the people surveyed. Answering the question: when, if at all, do you think you will start experiencing the effects of climate change in Pakistan, 16 percent didn’t know or didn’t care to answer, while another 16 percent thought that they will never experience the change. Interestingly another 9 and 14 percent thought that they would experience this change in the next 50 and 25 years, respectively. That makes a significant 55 percent of people with little to no knowledge of the climate change and its effects.
Another one of its recent surveys show that 29 percent of Pakistanis believe it would only take a few months or even less time for greenhouse gases in the air to fall back to the level they were before modern factories, transportation and power plants existed. While this kind of awareness might require more technical knowledge, it is a clear evidence general public needs awareness and guidance.
Smog, which has become a usual occurrence for Punjab especially Lahore, is another challenge that has dire consequences but the public acceptance, awareness and action has been lacking. It is the seventh season for this hazardous blanket over Lahore’s atmosphere and it is the first time that the government has closed schools for children are among the sensitive group with so much outdoor exposure to this public health emergency.
Talks, seminars and discussions are now being held to create awareness and help in government’s policy making. However, setting up seminar and talk on smog and its effects alone won’t cut it, especially when those affected the most are people who have little access to resources as well as understanding. There is a need for creating awareness among the masses; they need to be told in the most basic language because they don’t understand the technical details – nor are they interested.
While such an awareness campaign will not end smog or the poor air quality, it will help those affected in taking preventive measures like reducing exposure and outdoor activities on worse days, wearing masks (which has been a case for mockery by many), and understanding their role controlling it. A big role here has to be that of the government, which is seen taking some steps for creating a campaign against smog. But more is required. It’s a public health emergency and should rig alarm bells within the government ranks.