The alarming levels of smog in Lahore are causing major concerns for the city’s residents once again, while authorities appear to be failing in their duties. Despite the fact that the city traffic police have announced a number of initiatives to crack down on polluting vehicles, reports indicate that more than 40% of vehicles emit smoke and contribute to smog. The number of registered vehicles in Lahore has risen to seven million, and if 40% of them emit toxic fumes into the atmosphere, the number of such vehicles must be at least three million. For any city, this is a staggering number of polluting vehicles. The provincial capital of Punjab is not the only city dealing with this issue; the increasing number of motorcycles, ramshackle buses, and vans across the country has become a serious threat to the environment.
There is no effective mechanism in Pakistan for awarding vehicle fitness certificates. Vehicles without proper fitness certificates are prohibited in nearly all major cities around the world, but not in this country. Cars and other light vehicles, such as auto rickshaws, have also become significant contributors to air pollution and smog. Aside from registered vehicles, there are a large number of unregistered vehicles on the roads, both in rural and urban areas. Not only do these vehicles contribute to smog, but they also contribute to chronic traffic congestion on most roads across the country. Lahore is one of those cities where major arteries and side roads are frequently congested. And it is in such congested areas that air pollution and smog are most prevalent.
Pakistan is a country that spends a lot of money on fuel imports from other countries. With increasing traffic congestion, there is more smoke in the air, and the country spends more on fuel imports. A large portion of the cost of this fuel, as well as the smog in cities, can be addressed if the state and government focus on providing affordable public transportation to all. Not public transportation as a last resort, but public transportation for all, regardless of gender, age, or socioeconomic status. Buses and trains are needed, not cars and motorcycles. Until Pakistan addresses its major cities’ transportation issues, the air in those cities will only become smokier. Granted, vehicular smoke is not the only source of the toxic air we breathe, but it certainly contributes significantly to it. A public transportation system is critical for the health of both our wallets and our bodies.
Earlier this year, the Punjab government unveiled the first and only smog master plan. However, even if implemented, the measures outlined in it do little more than alleviate the more visible causes. The smog plan, for example, suggests using zigzag technology in brick kilns, reducing crop burning, issuing tickets to owners of smoke-emitting vehicles, and establishing a commission to prevent the formation of more illegal housing societies. It is silent on how to deal with the industrial sector and the real estate mafia, which are responsible for the majority of air and environmental pollution in all of the country’s major cities. Despite the widespread devastation caused by the floods, the world will find it difficult to believe that Pakistan is deserving of climate justice and related reparations if the country’s leadership does nothing to address domestic environmental pollution.