On November 12, residents of Lahore woke in a gas chamber as Air Quality Index (AQI) surpassed the worst hazardous levels of 700. Owing to these worrying AQI readings, the metropolis earned the unenviable distinction of the world’s most polluted city. The situation was the same in other parts of Punjab with hundreds of people rushing to hospital owing to air pollution-related diseases. Poignantly, the sad part is that Pakistan’s air pollution problem is not confined to cities only; rural areas suffered from the same misery. In the absence of government policies, experts fear that situation will get worse in the years to come.
So, what exactly is smog, and how does it affects your health. Let’s find out!
What is Smog?
Smog is basically haze or fog intensified by smoke or other atmospheric pollutants. The smog being witnessed by us today is categorized as photochemical smog. It is the type of smog that is produced when nitrogen oxides react with sunlight and volatile organic compounds. The major sources of emissions of nitrogen oxides are coal-run power plants, car exhausts, and factory gases.
As far as etymology is concerned, the term was coined by Dr Henry Antoine Des Voeux of England. He used it in his paper titled “Fog and Smoke” released back then in 1905. At that time, smog was a perk of the second industrial revolution.
Now that you have understood the term and its etymology, let’s find out what are the major causes behind smog.
Causes of Smog in Pakistan
In Pakistan, smog usually arrives in late October every year. As doctors advise against outdoor activities and surge in lungs diseases, let’s find out what are the major reasons for smog in Pakistan.
Crop burning in neighbouring India
Pakistan’s Punjab and Sindh provinces share a border with Indian states. One of the main reasons for smog in Punjab is crop burning by Indian farmers in the states of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. As per a rough estimate, farmers in these states burn as much as 35 million tonnes of straw stubble every year. Resultantly, the pollutants get locked in the air and the wind carries them to Pakistan.
While India denies its responsibility, NASA’s satellite imagery stands in favour of Pakistan.
The data released by NASA clearly indicates the very fewer concentrations of fires on the Pakistani side and very heavy concentrations on the Indian side. Lahore — Pakistan’s second-biggest and worst affected city — lies roughly 12 miles from the Indian border.
Traffic and Industrial Pollution
Owing to rapid development, the numbers of vehicles on the roads are rising at an enormous level. In the past decade, as many as 4 million vehicles were registered in Lahore alone. With the lack of infrastructure for electric vehicles, vehicular emissions have emerged as one of the main contributors to Pakistan’s ever-increasing air pollution.
Likewise, industrial pollution is another cause of air pollution in Pakistan. In absence of regulators and legislation, industrial emissions have reached a new high and play a big role in building up smog.
Unchecked Urbanization & Construction
With the population rising to 220 million, Pakistan is currently witnessing rapid urbanization. This urbanization has led us to large-scale construction activities that ultimately increase pollutant particles and dust in the air.
Poor Road Infrastructure
Successive governments have made very few efforts to uplift the road and public infrastructure of the country. This criminal negligence has led Pakistan to congested roads, and hence smog.
How Smog Affects Environment and Human Health
You can gauge the threat level from the fact that 7 million people die each year due to air pollution.
- A report compiled by World Health Organization states that approximately 14% of children — aged 5 to 18 years — suffered from asthma linked to air pollution factors. If not curbed, the ratio is feared to rise to 20 in the coming years.
- A stagnant 543,000 children under 5 years of age lose their lives due to air pollution diseases. The numbers are feared to reach 1 million by 2028.
- Air pollution is one of the main causes of childhood cancer.
- Air pollution is also linked to cognitive impairment in adults and children.
- It affects fetal brain growth.
This environmental cost of air pollution is also huge. Air pollution drives climate change that results in environmental damage. Likewise, United Nations’ experts have urged governments to end coal-fired electricity by 2050; else, the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 centigrade will remain a distant dream.
PGC Leads Fightback Against Smog & Air Pollution
In the absence of concrete steps from the provincial and federal governments, the Punjab Group of Colleges — being the largest educational group of Pakistan — took matters into its hand and decided to lead the fightback against smog and air pollution.
As we completely understand the severity of the environmental crisis and its effect on children, PGC decided to use its reach to create awareness among the masses through not only slogans but through actions too.
PGC has undertaken the following initiatives to lead the fightback against smog and air pollution:
Plant Pakistan Pakistan Initiative
Under the Plant Pakistan Plant drive, PGC students plant hundreds of thousands of trees every year across the country. This initiative encourages people to take an active part in the tree plantation drive to achieve the goal of greener Pakistan.
PGC completely understands the importance of green energy and therefore, we have solarised as many as 40 campuses across Punjab. By doing so, PGC has effectively reduced approximately 9000 tonnes of carbon emissions that are equivalent to planting 27000 trees. The ultimate goal is to solarise the majority of the campuses and significantly reduce carbon emissions to the minimum levels.
Another important initiative taken by PGC to reduce carbon footprints is that we are turning our campuses into paperless offices. From the environmental perspective, going paperless saves trees, reduce carbon emissions, and conserve the energy used to make paper from trees. In the US alone, 1 billion trees’ worth of paper is consumed every year.
Besides, PGC knows that the paper manufacturing industry is one of the major contributors to environmental pollution. The process of manufacturing papers releases nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and carbon dioxide. Together combined, these perilous gases contribute to water pollution, greenhouse gases, and acid rain. Do you know that when paper rots, it produces methane gas that is as much as 25% toxic than carbon dioxide?
Social Media Campaigns
Social media campaigns heavily influence our thinking and decisions. PGC effectively uses its various social media platforms to raise awareness about air pollution, smog, and ways to curb it.
Nobody understands it better than PGC that curbing air pollution is essential to saving mother earth and that progress of the nation depends solely on the well-being and health of its citizens. Through the aforesaid initiatives, PGC aims to give a safer, greener, and healthy Pakistan to future generations.