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EditorialAir pollution suffocating Pakistan

Air pollution suffocating Pakistan

Life expectancy in some of Pakistan’s main urban centres has been reduced by four years thanks to the air people breathe. According to the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) report released by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute, lives of people residing in cities such as Lahore, Sheikhupura, Kasur and Peshawar is cut short by four years because of the quality of air that they inhale. The annual report pointed out a rise in air pollution in Pakistan, and if this level of pollution persists, those residing in Punjab, Islamabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are likely to experience a fall in life expectancy ranging from 3.7 to 4.6 years. According to the Air Quality Life Index, which measures the effects of air pollution on human life, particulate pollution stands as the second most significant threat to health in Pakistan after cardiovascular diseases.

The report further states that the rise in pollution triggers various mental health disorders like chronic anxiety, seasonal depression and mood sicknesses. Pakistan is among the countries which include Bangladesh, India and Nepal, that are considered the ‘epicentre of pollution’. Nearly a quarter of the global population lives in these countries, with Bangladesh ranking as the most polluted country in the world. As per the report, the 240 million population of Pakistan reside in areas where the yearly average of particulate pollution crosses the guidelines set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as Pakistan’s national air quality standard.

However, the report further said that if the WHO guidelines were to be adhered to, Karachi residents can gain three years in life expectancy, while those in Lahore as much as eight years. Similarly, residents of Islamabad could see an increase of around five years in life expectancy. There are a number of factors that are contributing to the rise in pollution, especially in the federal capital, and the local administration is partly to blame for it.

Presence of factories and brick kilns in residential areas is one such factor. Recently a photograph was published in a newspaper in which black fumes could be seen rising from an incinerator of a local government hospital located right in the heart of Islamabad. And that area is one of the most thickly populated in the capital.  Besides stone crushing on the Margalla Hills continues unabated and despite warnings, illegal crushing plants operate without any fear. However, it is Lahore that is ranked as the most populated city in Pakistan, with air pollution rising to record levels. Again, there are reasons, which can easily be overcome, but the authorities seem least concerned. Air pollution is caused by both vehicle and industrial emissions, smoke from brick kilns, burning of crop residue and dust rising from construction sites. Due to expansion of city areas, thousands of trees have been chopped down. Therefore we need to devise a strategy and then implement it forcefully. We need to plant more trees and move factories and brick kilns out of the city areas. We need to make our environment protection agencies more effective and reduce vehicular emissions.

This can be done by banning vehicles producing hazardous smoke from plying on roads and promoting bicycles.

Unfortunately our authorities have failed to take any measures. We have not been able to enforce the ban on plastic bags, what to say about implementing environment healthy policies.

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