Pakistan is facing a major problem of air pollution for a very long time especially in the cities of Lahore and Karachi. According to the latest weather reports from IQAir, Lahore’s air quality index (AQI) was recorded at 347 on Monday, Nov 1 between 9 AM and 5 PM. This has made it the most polluted city in the world, leaving behind New Delhi, Beijing, and Sarajevo.
The skies were filled with a thick haze which caused severe visibility and health issues for citizens. They had coughs, difficulty in breathing, and suffered irritation in the throat and eyes. At first, many took it as smog but the environment department claimed that it was something beyond that.
The concentration of fine particulate matter in the air was smaller than 2.5 micrometers, known as PM 2.5. This level of concentration is 5.9 times more than WHO’s annual air quality guidelines. At PM 2.5, the particles are small enough to invade the lungs and enter the bloodstream. It can increase the risk of heart diseases, and negatively affect brain development and growth. The greatest source of PM 2.5 are vehicles, factories, and other seasonal factors such as burning different materials for energy in winters.
Functions of the Most Polluted City
Smog is an intense type of air pollution formed when smoke and fog combine in the air. Also, the word smog is a blend of smoke + fog. However, the haze that engulfed the most polluted city on Monday had no evidence of having fog. Weather experts noted that the humidity level in Lahore at that time was around 60%, whereas the fog is normally formed at 100%. The environment department attributed the air condition as “pure pollution”.
The deteriorating air quality in Lahore highlights the same growing impact of industrialization on public health. World Health Organization (WHO) reported that air pollution caused around 4.2 million deaths across the world each year. According to the data, most of these deaths occur in underdeveloped and developing countries due to more chances of getting exposed to pollutants. In a 2019 report, UNICEF called for immediate action against air pollution in entire South Asia as nearly 620 million children breathed toxic air.
Experts have been advising the industry for ages, to use cleaner, greener, and renewable sources of energy and stop burning fossil fuels. However, the monitors identified that the industrial activity was on the full horizon this past Monday. The industrial area of Kot Lakhpat recorded 500 AQI, Fategarh full of steel mills was around 400, and Raiwind at 403. Environmentalists labeled it as the “hazardous” air condition to live in but Pakistan’s environment department considered it “moderately polluted”.
It’s About to Get Worse
There was also a difference of opinion among Pakistan’s environmental officials. Some alleged that the haze might be coming from India because of crops burning in Amritsar. However, the AQI of Amritsar was 189 – way lower than Lahore’s 347, which did not sit well with that statement. Other officials opined that considering its density, the haze was indeed homegrown from the world’s most polluted city.
Additionally, the wind in Lahore is still coming from the west, so the air pollution is flowing towards India and not the other way around. However, the wind can also change and once it changes, the pollution from India will come towards Pakistan, and then it will get worse. The forecast from the meteorological department predicts dry weather for the next 48 hours which means that there will be no atmospheric cleansing (or rain) during this time.
Pakistan environment officials admitted that there is not much they can do to control the current and upcoming situation. However, they have claimed to be dealing with hot spots of pollution in Lahore and monitoring industrial areas. The department said that most of the industry in Lahore used low-quality and polluted fuels during the nighttime, so it has tasked its field force to focus more on industrial activities.
Meanwhile, the health experts have issued guidelines for living in the world’s most polluted city. They advised citizens to wear masks while going out, install air purifiers inside homes to protect against fine particles and prevent them from penetrating human lungs and bloodstreams. For those with existing respiratory conditions like asthma need to avoid leaving the house until further notice.
It is harrowing to learn that Pakistan is facing the worst kind of environmental crisis and its residents are causing it.