- Environment experts chide government’s lack of effort as Smog continues to engulf Lahore
ISLAMABAD: As Lahore and much of central Punjab remains shrouded in toxic smog, reducing visibility and prompting serious health concerns amongst the citizens, environment experts have criticized the government for lack of effort in implementing policies related to environment and climate change.
It has now been almost a week since the opaque haze first descended on Lahore, and weather forecasts suggest that the situation won’t improve for another few days as there is little chance of rain. Citizens of Lahore witnessed similar problems last year when the smog engulfed the city but it seems that the provincial government has done little in the last year to mitigate the effects of smog.
Daily The Patriot talked to some prominent environment experts to ascertain the reasons for the crisis like situation that has arisen due to smog and possible long and short term steps to counter the threat posed by climate change.
Prof. Dr. Muhammad Irfan Khan who is a Professor at International Islamic University’s Department Of Environmental Science when contacted by Daily The Patriot said that there are two major factors for the presence of smog in Punjab; one being the human factor which includes various forms of pollution whereas the other is the natural factor, which in this case refers to the lack of rain.
Khan said that two key contributors to the presence of smog are the industrial pollutants and automotive pollution. He downplayed the role played by the pollutants coming from across the border in India from crop burning.
Khan was also critical of ‘unreasonable’ criticism aimed at the Sahiwal Coal Power Plant and the plants’ alleged role in aggravating the issue of smog. He said that the technology being used in the newly setup coal plants keeps the emissions to a very low level and the undue criticism on such plants is due to lack of knowledge.
The professor pointed out that Pakistan’s contribution in global emissions is almost negligible, standing at below 1.0% whereas in terms of threat faced by climate change Pakistan is in the list of top ten countries that will be worst affected. He said that as a developing country and keeping in view the principle of sustainable development, Pakistan simply cannot give up such power plants when the country’s contribution to global emissions is so low.
Speaking about the policies with regards to climate change and environmental pollution, the Professor said that Pakistan has one of the best policies at the Federal level to counter the threat of climate change but worryingly added that implementation on these policies is non-existent.
The professor pointed out that according to latest available figures pollution causes the country a loss of at least Rupees one billion every day. He called for media groups to come forward and raise awareness regarding environmental issues.
An official of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency which is an attached department of the ministry of climate change and responsible for implementing the Pakistan environmental protection act, 1997 in the country speaking on condition of anonymity said that despite relevant environmental laws, Pakistan is seriously lagging behind in terms of implementation of these laws.
The official lamented that many departments dealing with climate change and environment have vacant seats. He questioned as to how the policies will be implemented when the departments don’t even have the services of environmental professionals.
He pointed out that due to lack of foresight Pakistan is currently not taking any advantage of the United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD Programme).
Ahmed Rafay Alam, a Lahore based environment lawyer and activist while speaking to Daily The Patriot said that last year the Punjab Environment Protection Department (EPD) had just one air quality monitoring meter for Lahore. This year they have bought four more meters but these are still insufficient. Alam questioned as to how an effective policy to tackle smog can be formulated when the government does not possess adequate air quality monitoring equipment that can accurately tell about major pollutants in the air. He was also critical of the government’s claim that the presence of smog is due to crop burning in India saying that without proper date nothing can be said for certain regarding the causes of smog.
As far as the policy for controlling smog goes Alam pointed out that the draft for the Policy on Controlling Smog 2017 was drawn up in haste after orders from Lahore High Court.
Commenting on EPD’s reluctance to release air quality readings, Alam emphasized that people have every right to know the kind of air they are breathing
Dr. Salahuddin Azad who is an Associate Professor at National University of Sciences and Technology’s Institute of Environmental Sciences & Engineering said that the present situation with regards to smog in Punjab is very serious. The professor was also of the opinion that Pakistan is seriously lagging behind in terms of implementation on policies related to climate change and environment. Responding to a query about the annual pollution related losses the country incurs, Azad said that the figure stands at approximately around 365 billion rupees or one billion rupees every day.