No, 60,000 people did not die from smog in November


By Umer Tariq

Recently an editorial appeared in ‘The News’ which claimed that there have been 60,000 deaths in Pakistan due to last month’s smog spell. The editorial attributed the figure to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO). The editorial titled ‘Smog damage’ was widely shared on social media platforms.

Anyone who knows even the basics of health and environment issues or has studied about the issue of smog will point out how outrageous the figure is. But since fact checking is rare even in the country’s journalistic circles, the news made it to electronic media and it was claimed that as per a WHO report there were 60,000 deaths in Pakistan during the month of November due to Smog.

A bit of research on the internet shows that no such report has been issued by the WHO in recent weeks. The figure in ‘The News’ editorial could either be a result of a mistake or misunderstanding. The figure was probably wrongly interpreted from articles published in New York Times (in November 2017) and in Guardian (in December 2016). Both reports give the figure of 60,000 deaths and attribute the figure to WHO. However both articles clearly mention that the reported figure was for an entire year (2015) and the deaths were not a direct result of smog but from the high level of fine particulate matter in the air.

Despite figuring out the mistake, I contacted Mohammad Assai Ardakani, the WHO Representative in Pakistan. In an email response Dr. Assai made it clear that WHO has issued no such report and the news is false.

Maryam Yunus, the WHO Pakistan Communication Officer also issued a press release on the matter which is being reproduced below.

‘World Health Organization would like to clarify a news report which is being published and quoted in the media that according to WHO 60,000 deaths have occurred in Pakistan due to smog in the month of November.

WHO categorically denies the news report and would like to make it clear that WHO has not issued this statement anywhere and it is being wrongly quoted. The report is baseless and incorrect.

WHO is a credible, leading and specialised agency of United Nations on health and only shares information which is evidence based.

Therefore, WHO clearly states that no such information has been shared by WHO on the issue and would like to request media to clear any misconceptions caused by this report and contact WHO for clear facts. WHO regards media as its strong partner in raising awareness on health issues and making efforts in making a strong health care system in Pakistan to benefit the people of Pakistan.’

Smog, pollution and other environmental and health issues are of very serious nature. These issues need to be addressed and should be highlighted by the media. However, speculative reporting merely trivializes these issues.

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