News ID: 204475
Published: 0239 GMT November 17, 2017

Toxic air chokes Pakistan and India

Toxic air chokes Pakistan and India

Parts of Pakistan have been enveloped by deadly smog in recent weeks, with the city of Lahore suffering almost as badly as the Indian capital Delhi.

Pictures and video that show Lahore looking like an apocalyptic landscape have left people in shock. Some residents have said they can’t see beyond their outstretched arm, reported the Guardian.

According to the app Airvisual and a Twitter user going by the handle @Lahoresmog, the air quality index, which measures the level of PM 2.5 pollutants in the air, has been set at ‘hazardous’ over the past week, making a modest improvement in recent days.

Flights have been cancelled, schools have shut and major traffic jams and accidents have gridlocked the streets.

At its peak, Lahore’s levels of PM 2.5, the particles most damaging to health, were more than 30 times the World Health Organization’s (WHO) safe limit. Environmentalists say air pollution is getting worse every year. According to WHO figures, in Pakistan during 2012, nearly 60,000 people died because of PM2.5 particles in the atmosphere.

The causes of the air pollution are a combination of vehicle and industrial emissions, construction, seasonal dust, and crop burning. Analysts say because the causes and consequences of air pollution are not limited to a single nation state, it is time for cooperation between India and Pakistan to address the issue.

Shafqat Kakakhel, a former ambassador and deputy executive director of the UN Environment Program, agrees.

“Both countries are now using wood for fuel and there is also bad quality of fuel in vehicles. The situation in India is definitely different because industrialization in Punjab and Haryana is heavier than it is on our side. Their emissions come from the use of coal, we use gas — so basically the scale of pollution is much worse there.”

Abid Suleri, executive director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, reiterated that the smog problem should be viewed as a cross-regional challenge. “This year [the smog] started a bit early, which shows the intensity of the problem. It is getting policymakers’ attention, but they seem clueless on how to handle it.

“Smog is a symptom. We need to introduce clean fuel, and renew efforts of reforestation: Not only planting but taking care of saplings too. Also, by enforcing existing laws to control vehicular and industrial emissions.”

He added that authorities need to look at banning the burning of crop residue and solid waste, “but then there must be an alternative to dispose of solid waste. Countries in the region should talk to each other to learn what worked and what did not work in controlling the smog.”

One doctor in Delhi said pollution there was worse than smoking 50 cigarettes a day.

But joint action would be difficult given the volatile political relationship between India and Pakistan. “There is no forum that can be taken with India. Bilateral talks have stalled, but the fact is that we have so many transboundary environmental issues,” said Kakakhel.

Kakakhel believes this is an imperative issue that will deteriorate over the years if it is not taken seriously by both countries.

“It is going to be worse next year. There will be more vehicles, wood and cow dung will be burned.

“Political leadership needs to wake up to this. Maybe the smog can bring us together.”

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