Dr Saeed Ahmed Ali

ISLAMABAD, Nov 7 (APP):Smog has soared to alarming level in Lahore today (Thursday) posing threat to public health thus forcing authorities to close the schools.  

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, late on Wednesday night, announced the closure of all public and private schools in provincial capital on (Thursday) after the Air Quality Index soared to over 500 in parts of the city.

Further, the people have been advised that so long as smog persists, the elderly, children and the infirm should stay indoors with their windows closed.
Doctors also say that people who feel the affects of smog should drink plenty of water and wear face masks if they have to travel outside.

It is pertinent to mention here that every year, with the arrival of winter season, chemical smoke after mixing with fog, forms a thick cloak of fog, hovering over the roads and everywhere, from dawn to dusk, causing threat to public health due to toxic gases also hindering visibility.

Smog, which routinely engulfs Lahore and several other cities of the country from November to December, also disrupts airflow and traffic movement on the roads; leading to economic damage and disruptions in transport logistics causing billions of loss to national exchequer.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) report in 2015, an estimated 60,000 Pakistanis died due to higher levels of  toxic, Particulate Matter (PM2.5), which was directly associated with environmental disorders.

The WHO in its report had further revealed that during foggy season, levels of dangerous Particulates Matter (PM2.5), are enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, which damages human health by reaching 1,077 micrograms per cubic meter, (more than 30 times what international health experts consider the safe limit).

Talking to APP, Dr Tehsin Riaz, a noted physician said that smog causes itchy-eyes and sore-throat which were teh symptoms of smog. He said that there was clear evidence that polluted air causes depression and Alzheimer’s disease, an irreversible brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and harms the ability to carry out the daily routine tasks.

The Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) in its recent report said that Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) stations did not provide sufficient information during the smog season, adding they could only provide reading of fog-points’ measurement, and its observations.Suggesting remedy, the report suggested that continuous monitoring and spatially coherent picture of smog distribution was possible through the use of satellite observations.

A senior official in SUPARCO said that space study reports and satellite data of atmospheric pollutants were being used across the globe to overcome smog issues by making decisions in environmental management activities. 

Misbah-ul-Haq Khan Lodhi, Director Punjab Environmental Protection Department said that Punjab Government ahead of November, 2019, had decided to close conventional kilns in consultation with the Smog Commission, which had been tasked to identify the root causes of fog generation, and to formulate a policy by prescribing a plan to protect the health of people.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development(ICIMOD) scientists’ study report conducted during 2014-2015, had revealed that mass concentration of PM10 at all sampling sites within Lahore city exceeded the National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) levels during the reading periods.
 
The objective of this study was to determine the spatial distribution of aerosols, their types, and to identify the aerosol origins during special weather conditions like smog in Pakistan.Punjab Provincial Minister for Environment Protection, Bao Muhammad Rizwan said that the Punjab government has taken several emergency measures to counter smog, including a strict ban on burning crops and solid waste.

He said that last year more than 100 people were arrested for crop burning and during the current year hundreds of factories have been shut down for not having proper emission-control equipments.
The officials of Lahore Traffic Police department said that they have collected more than $50,000 in fines in recent days from drivers whose vehicles did not meet with emissions standards, adding Punjab government have set up two centres for checking commercial vehicles for compliance of environmental rules.

Noted environmentalists said, “We have urged the Punjab government to take real solution and concrete measures to improve fuel quality, introduce solar and other renewable energy resources, phase out fuel-guzzling vehicles, devise policy for massive tree plantation and improve public transportation to reduce the number of vehicles on the much busy roads.”Although smoke from crop burning in India is a major reason of smog, but we should formulate our own mechanism to reduce this crisis, environmentalist Mehmood Khalid Qamar said.

On the request of the Punjab government, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) under its project R-SMOG (Remote Sensing for Spatio-Temporal Mapping of Smog) has prepared a report on smog for the country.According to the FAO report, the contribution of the agriculture sector in smog generation, through crops residue burning, was the third sector of air pollutant emissions.The report calculated the percentage shares of different sectors in generating smog which contribute 45 percent of transport sector, 27 percent of industrial sector and almost 20 percent from agriculture.Satellite data of atmospheric pollutants were being widely used globally in the decision-making and environmental management activities of public, private sector and non-profit organizations, it further said.

Following the FAO report, the Punjab government has took up policy and decision making, and recommended the establishment of smog monitoring and early-warning systems. The Punjab government has started adopting the recommendations of FAO report, which need to support farmers adopt mechanized farming and adopt climate smart practices to avoid losses due to smog and help increase crop yields.