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Pakistan’s Battle Against the Escalating Smog Crisis

Residents in Lahore are grappling with the escalating smog crisis, as the toxic air has left thousands of people sick, prompting authorities to close some cities for the week. Obaid Shah, a resident who recently traveled to Islamabad, expressed the challenges posed by the smog, which have made daily life a struggle. “Smog has made our lives difficult. Whether we keep the doors closed or open is a cause for concern. Even talking to someone makes our eyes shrink, unsure if it’s an eye infection or not,” Shah lamented. He shared an unsettling experience: his meticulously cleaned car turned dirty overnight. This highlighted the pervasive impact of smog on the environment.


Climate Change Threats Pakistan’s Environment

Pakistan, facing the brunt of climate change, is confronted with various environmental threats, including floods, heatwaves, and glacier outbursts. Ali Jabir, an environmental journalist at the Associated Press of Pakistan, emphasized the impact of nature on the region’s people. Despite Pakistan contributing less to environmental degradation than its neighbours, India and China, it has grappled with the menace of smog for the past five to six years.

Environmental experts attribute the smog crisis to various factors, with the burning of crop residue for winter planting season preparation significantly contributing. The Air Quality Index (AQI) in Lahore has recently hovered around the 400 mark, well above the satisfactory level of 100. The issue extends beyond Lahore, affecting major urban cities from Karachi to Gilgit Baltistan and showcasing the widespread nature of the problem.

A study from the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) reveals a significant increase in air pollutants in Gilgit city, surpassing even the pollution levels in Islamabad’s capital. Cities like Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Multan, Sargodha, and Kasoor, each with distinct topographies, are grappling with air pollution, pointing to the pervasive nature of the crisis.


Identifying the Causes of Smog

Climate change activists identify industrial pollution, hospital waste, and the burning of solid waste as primary contributors to the smog problem. Dr Basharat, a climate change activist, points out that modern cities like Islamabad grapple with improper disposal of solid waste, with approximately 1000 tons being openly dumped and burnt, causing air and water pollution. Islamabad’s AQI reached a concerning 231, underscoring the severity of the situation.


Impact on Vulnerable Populations and Healthcare System

The impact of smog is particularly pronounced on vulnerable populations, including the elderly, infants, and those with pre-existing smog-related health conditions. Dr Shahzed, a medical doctor, warns that conditions like asthma can worsen due to smog, placing additional strain on the healthcare system and the country’s economy.

The daily lives of residents become more challenging as health deteriorates, disrupting social balance. Dr Shahzed suggests that reducing traffic can contribute to a better environment, highlighting the need for collective efforts to address the smog crisis. He emphasizes the importance of being aware of smog forecasts and modifying daily activities, such as carpooling, using public transit, or working from home. Checking the Air Quality Health Index during the smog season, typically from May to September, and limiting outdoor exposure on high ozone days are also recommended. Other measures include avoiding gas-powered engines, pesticides, and oil-based paints, staying hydrated, driving less, and protecting those at higher risk of health problems.

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