By Asad Ali.
An air pollutant is any substance in the air that can cause harm to humans or the environment. Smog hanging over cities is the most familiar and obvious form of air pollution. Smog a combination of smoke and fog occurs when air pollution, emissions and fumes combine with fog and sunlight, forming a thick layer of smoke-like film in the atmosphere. But there are different kinds of pollution—some visible, some invisible—that contribute to global warming. Generally, any substance that people introduce into the atmosphere that has damaging effects on living things and the environment is considered air pollution.
Air quality is measured by the concentration of PM2.5, or particulate matter of a size deemed especially harmful; such pollutants contribute to a variety of health conditions. Anything under 50 is considered good. The health implications and the ratio of PM can be seen from the table below.
According to the recent World Health Organization data, there are some good reasons to be worried about the air quality in Lahore, with a yearly average of 68 µg/m3 of PM2.5, which corresponds to a 155 – Unhealthy Air Quality Index. Obviously, 155 – Unhealthy is just a yearly average, and the air pollution can reach much higher 300+ hazardous levels- just like the recent smog events in early November 2016 and in October 2017.
Sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide, the three main gases that contribute to dangerous levels of air pollution. Except for these dangerous gases the following are the main causes of air pollution in Pakistan.
With the current rate of industrialization and increased manufacturing activities, high levels of smoke, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter are emitted into the air. In a typical industrial plant, for instance, it is easy to notice the long chimneys or smokestacks erected into the air, emitting large amounts of fumes and smoke from it. No environmental body exists to check the carbon emission from the industrial units.
Deforestation affects the atmosphere in several ways. Forests act as sinks for carbon dioxide through a process called carbon sequestration. Trees store carbon dioxide in their plant tissue as they take in this gas to undergo food-making. In effect, this action removes carbon dioxide from the air. When forests are burned and destroyed, this storage area for carbon dioxide is removed, increasing the concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide. According to the United Nation, the average forest area of a country should be 10% of its total land but Pakistan has only 3%. Timber mafia is actively chopping the trees from the northern areas which have further worsened the situation.
Vehicle emissions are another source of fossil fuel emissions and air pollution. Private transportation accounts for about 10 percent of the amount of carbon dioxide your lifestyle and activities contribute to the atmosphere. There are 2.5 million automobiles in Lahore and 3.7 million in Karachi daily move on the roads. We are using poor quality fuel without vehicle quality check system that generates air hazard.
Air pollution has entangled our big cities in its vicious claws primarily due to the ill-planned construction of mass transit projects like Lahore Orange Line Metro Train. Mostly development projects have been built without considering the environmental risks.
A study claims that brick kilns adjacent areas to Lahore district are contributing around 10 percent of the total air pollution in the area. The fuels used in the brick kilns—agri-wastes, powder coals and used tyres—can also be linked to 15 percent of the total premature deaths due to air pollution in the area.
The effects of environmental pollution on humans are mainly physical, but can also turn into neuro-affections in the long term. The best-known troubles to us are the respiratory disease in the form of allergies, asthma, irritation of the eyes and nasal passages, or other forms of respiratory infections. Notably, these well-spread affections can be observed when air pollution is high in cities, when the weather gets hot, for instance. On top of that, environmental pollution has been proven to be a major factor in the development of cancer. This can happen for example when we eat reminiscences of pollutants used in the production of processed foods, or pesticides from the crops. Other, rarer, diseases include hepatitis, typhoid affections, diarrhea and hormonal disruptions.
In a report released last year by WHO “Pakistan was the 4th most polluted country in the world. According to the Breath Life campaign, there are nearly 59,241 deaths every year due to air pollution, out of which 13,683 are children.” Moreover, air pollution has a damaging effect on the country’s economy. More than 5.88 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or $47.8 billion, are spent as the economic cost of air pollution in Pakistan. Urgent action on air pollution makes economic sense.
Reducing deaths from air pollution is one of the aims of the sustainable development goals. One of the targets for goal three, good health and wellbeing, is “substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil” by 2030.
Article 9 and 14 of the constitution of Pakistan has provided the right to life and dignity of citizens. The life and dignity not only limited to sustain them but to enjoy all aspect of the life. According to the interpretation of the mentioned articles, it is the fundamental right of every citizen to enjoy the unpolluted atmosphere and breathe clean air. Under clause (d) of the article 38, it is the primary duty of government to provide basic necessities of life to the people. After the 18th constitutional amendment health is a provincial subject. Despite the hoot of dangerous environmental pollution in recent years, our provincial governments are still struggling to frame a definite environmental policy.
A real solution would require much more serious measures: improving fuel quality, phasing out fuel-guzzling cars, introducing solar and other renewable sources of energy, opt the new methods of bricks making, recycle and re-use things, planting trees on a large scale and improving public transportation to reduce the number of cars on the roads.
Poor air quality needs more attention – especially in Lahore. We need more study, more monitoring, more discussion and more public awareness. Our health continues to be at risk otherwise. Clean air is the first and foremost necessity of our existence. To control the air pollution everyone should have to play his part. Governments and the society have a responsibility. The government is to formulate environment conservation policies while the society at large is to conserve the environment by using eco-friendly renewable energy in their appliances. This is the only way forward to get a sustainable living.
Asad Ameer Chaudhary; Lahore based lawyer and has keen interest in International law and Politics. He can be reached at; firstname.lastname@example.org