- Sub-continental smog demands regional teamwork
What single, apparently natural but actually man-made phenomenon, is a major risk in the following human ailments: heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, acute respiratory infections and asthma, apart from causing countless road accidents, cancelling flights, and shutting down schools. The answer lies in one word, smog, that deadly witches brew originally compounded of coal smoke and fog, now also aggravated by a thick layer of greenhouse gases, unchecked industrial pollution, with dust and sand thrown in for good measure. In the sub-continent, a deadly sky-obscuring smog, once thankfully (for small mercies) restricted to winter due to burning of solid fuels and crop stubbles, is now worryingly making an unwelcome appearance even in 45 degrees Celsius summer weather, and once-in-a-decade climatic occurrences are becoming more frequent and the new normal. The once infamous London thick ‘pea soup’ coal-burning smog, ended finally by strict implementation of environment laws, pales into insignificance when compared to the present worldwide meteorological mess.
The Smog Commission appointed by Lahore High Court to study the causes of and to prevent smog in Punjab in its recent report emphasised that environmental concerns should be included in Indo-Pak bilateral dialogue, on the lines of 2002 Agreement on Trans-Boundary Haze Pollution between ten ASEAN countries. The November 2017 toxic fog, caused by burning of 35 million tonnes of crop stubble in India’s northern states, enveloped New Delhi, already considered one of the world’s most polluted cities, in a deadly haze and also spilled into Pakistani Punjab, with smog levels 40 times the World Health Organisations safety levels, and equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. But local-level steps, long and short term, are also recommended, among them, updating and enforcing environment laws especially on industries using fossil fuel, discouraging small diesel generators, consuming low-sulfur fuel, employing Euro-II emission standards for petrol vehicles and restricting daily traffic, which would reduce harmful ‘particular matter’ emissions, checking crop and municipal waste burning, regulating urban brick-kilns, tree plantation, and immediate implementation of World Bank Punjab Green Development Programme. Environmentally, it is already late in the day, almost night, and the Smog Commission’s counsel needs serious immediate implementation.