Lahore was once considered as the cleanest cities in the region, but now for the first time ever, worsening air quality and smog has forced the closure of schools. Punjab Chief Minister was forced to declare a public holiday for school after realising the adversity of the situation.
According to the Air Quality Index, Lahore’s air quality dropped to less than 200. It is now considered ‘unhealthy’ and hazardous for children and elderly people. The threshold for ‘hazardous’ levels of air quality is 300, where people are advised to avoid all physical activity outdoors.
Now smog is being rightly called the fifth season of Lahore, as a thick layer of toxic smoke engulfs the horizon from October to January depriving the people of sunshine. The government’s failure to protect people from exposure to hazardous air risks violating their right to life and a healthy environment.
The prolonged exposure to hazardous air can result in severe health issues such as asthma, lung and heart problems. Low-income workers such as labourers or construction workers are vulnerable as their work forces them to stay outdoors. Low visibility also results in accidents and loss of life.
There has been a non-serious attitude from government officials towards the matter. Minister of Science Fawad Chaudhry has blamed crop burning in India for the smog. Health experts have stated Pakistan’s own pollution causes smog and India cannot be solely blamed. The reasons include vehicular pollution due to low quality fuel, industrial pollution, and brick kilns worsened by the burning of crop stubble.
Minister for Climate Change Zartaj Gul even made the absurd claim that participants of the Azadi March are causing the pollution. She dismissed reports as fake news that Lahore is among the most polluted cities in the world and has also blamed trans-boundary pollution.
Denying the truth doesn’t change the facts. Air quality and climate change are intricately linked. If authorities do not make concerted efforts to address the smog crisis, it will devastate human life. It is imperative that there is a fundamental shift across several industrial, agriculture and transportation practices.
The government treats air quality as a seasonal issue even though Lahore suffers from poor air quality throughout the year. In May 2018, the Lahore High Court appointed a Smog Commission to provide recommendations to mitigate the crisis but they were hardly implemented. The government cannot waste any more time, particularly when the air is so toxic that people cannot even breathe it.