- Before it gets too late
The sudden onset of toxic smog that has hit Pakistan’s second-largest city consecutively for the second time has put on the map hundreds of concerns and questions
The ever-worsening air pollution in the country caused at least 135,000 premature deaths in 2015 alone, ranking Pakistan third in the world in the given category, and is responsible for a loss of approximately 111,000 people every year
Enough of deploring Trump on withdrawing from The Paris Agreement. Enough of disseminating oodles of facts on global warming and climate change. Enough of keeping track of rising temperatures and sea levels in different parts of the world. Now is the time to actually do something. Now is the time to put a halt to the irrevocable threat of global warming that, if ignored as it being, will prove to be a distressing tragedy of the commons. Now is the time to realise that green cover and trees are way more important than Orange, Purple and Blue Line projects.
The sudden onset of toxic smog that has hit Pakistan’s second-largest city consecutively for the second time has put on the map hundreds of concerns and questions. As proven last year, eyeing it as a trans-border phenomenon will not solve the problem. Setting fire on rice fields in Indian terrain comprising Amritsar, Jalandhar and Bhatinda might be a very good reason for increased levels of particulate matter in air encapsulating Pakistan’s Punjab but is not good enough to rationalise the phenomenon given that this practice is years old and so is the neighbourhood. Yes, westward moving winds have definitely carried with them straw particles, but how about the absence of rain since several months that has aggravated the situation to such an extent that breathing heavily and rubbing eyes has become a norm?
We need to rectify our facts on an urgent basis. The Signal Free Project in Lahore wolfed down 196 trees all along the route from Liberty roundabout to Fawara Chowk at Shadman. Those consumed by the Canal Road widening project amounted to 1,300. And the ones grazed on by the all-famous Lahore Metro Train Project will total to 2,300. Are the authorities focusing on replacing these, let alone adding to the green cover of the city? Lahore Development Authority, back in 2015, pledged to plant 6,200 new saplings in place of the felled ones to maintain the equilibrium. The equilibrium, however, has been long disturbed and commoved. The only counterpoise that can better the situation and disperse the poisonous smog is rain for which we need green trees that are nowhere to be seen.
Are we ready to learn any lesson from this? The simplest answer is no. And the most uncomplicated barometer to gauge the intensity of this ignorance is on-going denuding of our land. Karachi has bearing the brunt of ill-planned civic projects for several years, resulting in the cutting down of approximately 47,000 fully grown trees, the devastating results of which have lately surfaced in the form of annual heat stroke and other unusual climatic lineaments. The air pollution caused by ever-decreasing precipitation and elevating level of fine particulate matter results in almost 60,000 deaths per annum. Are we ready to address this issue?
The list of projects requiring Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency review of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) include those in energy sector, manufacturing and processing, mining and mineral processing, transport (airports, ports, railway works, and highways or major roads), dams and irrigation, water supply and treatment, and waste disposal. It is still a mystery as to how needless aforementioned projects were issued positive EIA reports, allowing for heartless and unplanned logging of trees. When such reports are meant to serve the purpose of assessing the environmental consequences that a proposed plan or project will have, how could our environment protection agencies unintentionally overlook or willingly neglect the dire aftermaths of such unnecessary projects, the trade-off of which is the toxic smog we all are breathing in nowadays.
While putting blame on India and vehicular exhaust for the smog is one of our dearest hobbies, how about estimating the amount of dust and other particulates that have become a significant constituent of air in Punjab in these years? We can surely count the number of trees that have been uprooted in the wake of Metro projects, but can we count the number of dust particles that have been disseminated in Lahore’s skyline during its completion?
Before putting the entire burden on our eastern neighbour’s shoulders, let’s ponder over a few bitter realities that will unearth the true picture. While India has been successful in increasing its forest cover from 21.5pc in 1990 to 23.8pc in 2015 (which is undoubtedly less than the figure of 33pc that is required to maintain ecological balance in the plains), Pakistan has been triumphant in decreasing its green cover from 3.3pc to only 1.9pc in the same period. Who is to blame now?
If we and our authorities are to quote India as an impulsive compulsion then we better do it as an exhortation rather than inculpation. The current reason behind New Delhi’s fame is its topping the list of the world’s most polluted capital cities as declared by the World Health Organisation. Described as a ‘gas chamber’ by the Indian capital’s chief minister, Delhi is majorly laced with inhalable coarse particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometre or less, including traces of lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury, which are particularly deadly owing to their property of penetrating deeper into the lungs, resulting in a drastic increase in respiratory diseases and lung cancer. With air pollution reaching 30 times the safe limit, breathing the air in Delhi is equivalent to smoking 45 cigarettes a day, a naked truth that consumes 2.5 million Indians annually.
Pakistan is no different in this regard. The ever-worsening air pollution in the country caused at least 135,000 premature deaths in 2015 alone, ranking Pakistan third in the world in the given category, and is responsible for a loss of approximately 111,000 people every year.
The intricate relationship between trees and rain has added to the impetus of preserving green spaces as ‘more rain makes more plant growth’ is as accurate as ‘more plants make for more rain’. Acting as interceptors, the green surfaces of plants absorb solar radiation which, along with their unsmooth texture caused by venation, creates convection and turbulence in the atmosphere, resulting in more rainfall. Therefore, the solution to our problem is two-fold: either wake up and plant trees, or be ready to become home to a myriad of respiratory diseases and developmental disorders.