In the News
September 9, 2023
September 9, 2023
Air pollution is not Pakistan’s latest killer, but it has certainly become a serial one. For a country with low emissions on a global scale, our record on air pollution is cause for action at scale. Conservative estimates suggest that 128,000 people die in Pakistan from air pollution annually.
Air quality is no Instagram filter one can swipe away. Even without extensive data, our ambient air at its worst represents a growing density of poison in the very air we breathe. The smog we see cloaking our cities is no film-noir caprice of the weather, but an index of a visible deterioration of air quality in many of our big cities. Lahore in particular regularly ranks as one of the most polluted cities in the world, while Pakistan scored third in the most polluted countries of the world in 2021.
This is not a good place to be. In winter, especially when the deadly smog rises, children cannot go to school on some days in Punjab’s cities which get no sea breeze currents unlike coastal cities, the disease burden of respiratory illness rises, airports become paralyzed and motorways inoperable due to almost zero visibility. The air is not fit to breathe.
At a global level, the UN rates pollution as one of the triple planetary crises challenging humanity, and recent reports indicate that the damage it does to human health has been underestimated. According to the European Respiratory Journal, air pollution is estimated to have killed 6.7 million people globally in 2019. They also say that the impact of the climate emergency and human health has now become “irreversible”. Air pollution from domestic toxins, however, can be reduced appreciably.
What causes such high rates of air pollution in Pakistan’s cities? Air quality is not accurately measured in Pakistan, in fact quite patchily, wherever the meters are installed. But wherever it is formally measured the annual average PM2.5 exceeds the WHO standards in large margins. Particulate matter is a mixture of micro-solids or liquid pollutants, but size matters because the smaller they are, like the tenth of a hair strand in diameter, the more deadly their impact, because they easily enter the bloodstream via inhalation…
…The latest Air Quality Life Index report by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute should have raised alarm bells in Pakistan, because it said that the growing air pollution in the country may shorten life expectancy by at least seven years in our most polluted regions. The report also says that five of Pakistan’s cities, including Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi and Saidu Sharif in Swat valley, rank among the top 30 cities that can benefit from accelerating carbon mitigation.