This blog aims to discuss the causes of smog in Pakistan and explore the underlying factors that make it a significant concern for public health and safety. Keeping in mind the steps taken by authorities and government action and policy to mitigate its effects, the blog aims to provide solutions in policymaking and implementation that ultimately solve the issue at its core.
- The current situation of air pollution and the underlying causes of smog in Pakistan?
- The impacts of smog, and how is it a concern for public health?
- How has the government tackled the situation concerning policy and on-ground action?
- What are the possible remedial measures to counter smog and its harmful effects?
Developing countries like Pakistan are now facing significant environmental challenges that adversely affect the population and become a hurdle in human development and sustainable growth. Heavily urbanised regions in South Asia have routinely faced the issue of smog in colder weather. Air pollutants and fine particulate matter mix with fog to form a visible pollutant with many dangerous side effects on public health. Although the Pakistani government has formulated a policy on controlling smog, lack of data and lapses in policy implementation lead to this phenomenon’s continuous growth each year. Therefore, it is a cause of major concern for the authorities and the general public, which must be addressed on a priority basis.
Air Pollution and Smog in Pakistan
The current situation of air pollution in Pakistan can best be described as alarming. Pakistan ranks globally as the second-worst country in terms of air pollution (IQAir, 2020). According to the UNDP, Pakistan is the most urbanised country in South Asia, and it is estimated that nearly half of the country’s residents will live in cities by 2025 (Ahsan, 2019). The average air pollution in big cities is now four times higher than the World Health Organizations’ (WHO) standards (Jalil, 2016). Atmospheric data for fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5, which can penetrate the airways to cause respiratory problems, shows alarming levels in almost all of Pakistan’s major cities. The Air Quality Index (AQI) of cities such as Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, and Bahawalpur show a dismal picture, with all of them scoring as ‘hazardous’ to ‘very unhealthy’ (IQAir, 2020). Hence, the abysmal state of air pollution in Pakistan gives rise to smog as a recurring phenomenon each year. It is now known as the “fifth season” in Pakistan.
Factors which Lead to Smog
A variety of different factors lead to smog in Pakistan. Farmers frequently resort to burning crop stubble, thereby releasing massive amounts of smoke, nitrates, and sulfates into the atmosphere. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has pointed out that the burning of crop stubbles may be a significant reason for a smog blanket (Jalil, 2016). Factories, coal power plants, and small scale industries churn out vast amounts of smoke and fine particulate matter in the atmosphere. Deforestation on a massive scale has also played a key role in increasing atmospheric pollution. A single tree can fix 20 kg of dioxides every year. Another major factor is the widespread use of small diesel-powered generators and two-stroke engines at a massive level. Therefore, many contributing factors which work together to increase levels of pollution and smog.
The Impacts of Smog on Public Health and Safety
Smog consists of fine particulate matter that can penetrate the airways to enter the bloodstream and cause many problems. Respiratory illnesses and eye disease are the most common health emergency due to smog. According to WHO figures, in Pakistan during 2012, nearly sixty thousand people died of PM2.5 particles in the atmosphere (Abbas, 2017). This, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, can lead to a severe health crisis. Smog also impacts visibility in extreme cases of dense smog, thereby causing accidents and reducing efficiency. Another significant impact is on crops and vegetation. Smog can cause a plant to lose 10 to 40 percent of its growth, according to the University of California (ENVIS, 2020). This not only impacts the economy but also has a direct relation to consumer health and growth. Lastly, smog has also been shown to inflict damage to the material, heritage, and monuments (Government of Punjab, 2017).
Government Action and Policy to Counter Smog
A policy on controlling smog was laid out in 2017 by the Environment Protection Department of The Government of Punjab. The policy aims to better understand the problem and provide short-term and long-term solutions to mitigate the harmful impacts of smog on public health. The policy also focuses on increasing awareness in the general public on the issue. Although monitoring instruments have been installed throughout different vital areas to gather data, no proper database can be found to date. The Punjab government admitted it had “scant” air quality data, saying only that the official safety limit for PM2.5 particles was “exceeded frequently” (Malik, 2017).
In addition to tackling traffic pollution, the government has also installed scrubbers on steel mills around Lahore and taken action against smoke emitting vehicles. Another policy of regulating international buyers to not buy from those farmers who practice crop burning has seen positive results. Tracking of cross border crop burning and a local ban on the practice, closure of schools in intense smog, and calling upon neighbours such as India and China to solve the issue is also among the government’s commendable steps. Future progress will depend on accurate data collection and the active implementation of such policies (Ebrahim, 2018).
Remedial Measures to Counter Smog and its Effects
Although the government is still at an early stage of understanding smog and how to counter it through effective policy formation, the following steps can help mitigate the crisis to a great extent.
- Controlling the burning of municipal waste and crop residue: The government needs to work on solid waste management systems. To effectively keep the cities clean, government-owned institutions need to collect and properly dispose of solid waste. The government also needs to educate farmers on fertility losses due to burning stubble and, at the same time, introduce the latest technology for disposal of crop waste.
- Build capacity to monitor and forecast episodes of high air pollution: Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency has only six ambient air quality monitoring systems. The data from such stations helps identify the real cause of the problem and is crucial for informed decision making.
- Tree plantation and creation of woodlands: Trees are highly effective, cheap, and environmentally friendly agents to fix carbon and other noxious elements. Unfortunately, trees have been a victim of unplanned urban development in Pakistan. Particular attention should be given to funding in development projects towards tree plantation.
- Regional environment agreement between key player: Smog being a regional problem, cannot be effectively controlled by eliminating local sources of pollution alone. A comprehensive solution to this and other environmental issues such as contamination of water bodies flowing into Punjab from across eastern borders requires a cooperative approach at the regional level.
Pakistan needs to act fast to mitigate the effects of smog on public health and safety. Effective management of solid waste, proper data collection, increased public awareness, and government implementation are key areas requiring urgent attention. Although the current environmental data shows Pakistan to be in a dismal state in terms of air pollution, it is hoped that effective policy implementation will help Pakistan mitigate the effects of rapid urbanisation in the future.
- Pakistan currently faces extreme levels of air pollution in all of its major industrialized and urban cities.
- The Punjab government has formed a policy on controlling smog, with subsequent action taken on many fronts.
- Smog is not only injurious to health but can also affect plants and vegetation. It also has a damaging effect on monuments and heritage sites.
- Smog is not a Pakistan specific problem. The solution to controlling its harmful effects lies in regional participation by key players such as China and India.
Ahsan, A. (2019, Dec. 20). The poisonous cocktail of smog and how we’re paying the price. Dawn. https://www.dawn.com/news/1518238
Ebrahim, Z. T. (2018, Nov. 1). Punjab authorities are responding to help manage the smog, but is it enough? Dawn. https://www.dawn.com/news/1442838
Environment Protection Department. (2017, Oct. 21). Policy on controlling smog 2017. Retrieved Nov. 2, 2017, from https://epd.punjab.gov.pk/system/files/Policy%20on%20Controlling%20Smog%20%28Final%29_0.pdf
Environment Protection Department Government of Punjab. (2017). Air Pollution. Environment Protection Department. Retrieved Nov. 2, 2020, from https://epd.punjab.gov.pk/air_pollution
ENVIS Centre on Plants and Pollution. (2020, Jan. 28). Plants Database. ENVIS. Retrieved Nov. 2, 2020, from http://www.nbrienvis.nic.in/Database/1_2051.aspx#:~:text=Ozone%20and%20peroxyacetyl%20nitrate%20that,discoloration%20and%20damage%20to%20plants.&text=Smog%20can%20cause%20a%20plant,to%20the%20University%20of%20California.
IQAir. (2020, Nov. 2). Pakistan Air Quality Index (AQI). IQAir. Retrieved Nov. 2, 2020, from https://www.iqair.com/us/pakistan
Jalil, X. (2016, Nov. 6). Why Punjab’s smog has aggravated this year. Dawn. https://www.dawn.com/news/1294579/why-punjabs-smog-has-aggravated-this-year
Malik, M. Z. (2017, Nov. 10). In Lahore, Pakistan, Smog Has Become a ‘Fifth Season.’ New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/10/world/asia/lahore-smog-pakistan.html
World Health Organization. (2018, May 2). 9 out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air, but more countries are taking action. Retrieved Nov. 2, 2020, from https://www.who.int/news/item/02-05-2018-9-out-of-10-people-worldwide-breathe-polluted-air-but-more-countries-are-taking-action