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Smog alert

Come November, and a thick pall of smog is expected to hang over the city. Just how prepared is Lahore to deal with it?

Smog alert
Lest Lahore chokes on smog. — Photo by Rahat Dar

Smog has been declared the fifth season, albeit an ominous one, by environmentalists for the region. Therefore, both the government and the citizens must take appropriate measures to check its ill effects on the health of humans and animals.

The smog ‘season’ is known to set in sometime between the first week of November and the second or third week of December every year, when the temperature drops and the humidity level increases. This year, the Met officials are predicting smog to start early November.

Air pollution caused particularly by emissions from factories, burning of rice crop stubble and garbage, brick-kiln chimneys, and also a growing number of motor vehicles on the city roads, is another major contributor to smog. It is also attributed to the cutting of trees for various development projects.

Smog contains dangerous particulates, known as PM2.5, which are small enough to penetrate into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. Their high levels in the air can cause infections of eyes and throats, and difficulty in breathing. Precautionary measures advised include wearing sunglasses, and covering one’s mouth and nose with a mask.

A senior EPD official, Naseem ur Rehman says that smog is a result of sunlight, nitrogen oxide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the atmosphere that leave airborne particles (particulate matter) and ground-level ozone.

“In the developed world, pre-smog health warnings are issued, and the people, especially children, are directed to stay indoors because smog may cause serious health hazards related to eyes, skin, and lungs,” says Dr Tariq Chishti, a family physician.

“People with heart and lungs issues such as emphysema, bronchitis, and asthma should avoid going out in smog which can inflame breathing passages, decrease the lungs’ working capacity, and cause shortness of breath, besides wheezing and coughing.”

He adds that long-term exposure to smog at low levels can also affect our ability to fight disease, and cause premature aging of lungs. “Children as well as the elderly, asthmatics, and those suffering from chronic ailments of lungs are more susceptible to the effects of smog than the general public.

Air pollution caused by emissions from factories, burning of rice crop stubble and garbage, brick-kiln chimneys, and the growing number of motor vehicles on the city roads, is another major contributor to smog.

“There is a dire need to raise public awareness in this regard, as a majority of people living in low-lying areas and less developed localities don’t know much about smog and its dangerous effects.”

It is important to note here that any delay in adopting methods to deal with smog could prove disastrous. We have already seen how the lack of preparedness on the part of the Punjab government resulted in the rise of cases of dengue fever, taking many lives in Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Multan divisions.

Lahore, alias the city of gardens, routinely figures on air quality indexes as one of the most polluted cities in the world.

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD), Punjab, is believed to be taking measures to minimise the impact of the season. This includes closure of all brick kilns from November 1 till December 30, 2019. The EPD has placed a complete ban on the burning of crops; all field formations have been directed to ensure the closure of all industrial units that emit smoke.

Ali Raza

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