ISLAMABAD: As Punjab continues to be blighted by smog, experts have advised the government to declare a ‘pollution emergency’ in the province as air contamination levels are 20-fold the safe limit.
Experts that spoke with The Express Tribune recommended that the provincial government consider applying an “even-odd number formula” for vehicular traffic in cities where the smog level is exceptionally high.
They advised the provincial administration to also change school and office timings so that people could avoid going out in the early hours of the day when the smog is too thick and dense.
Since last week, most parts of Punjab and some parts of Balochistan have been enveloped in a shroud of dense smog due to a persistent dry spell and increasing levels of air pollution.
The fog and smoke has reduced visibility on roads, resulting in crashes which have claimed nearly two dozen lives in Punjab alone. Moreover, the smog is also creating or aggravating respiratory illnesses among the people.
Mideast, not India, is to blame for Punjab smog
An official working closely with the Punjab Environment Protection Agency (EPA) said that the level of air pollution in Lahore was too high in Lahore on the night of November 3 – more than 800 micrograms per cubic metre – which is considered highly dangerous to breathe.
“Although the air quality has been fluctuating in different parts of Punjab since November 1, the situation is alarming and worsening, especially during early hours of the day,” said the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media on record.
He suggested that the provincial government carry out inspections of private and public transport in order to control air pollution.
Senior meteorologist Prof Dr Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry said there was no other way to deal with smog except for controlling sources of air pollution. “Artificial rain cannot be created in these conditions as it requires clouds,” Chaudhry, who is also a research scientist, told The Express Tribune.
When smog strikes
He believes even light showers in the country’s northern parts would help improve the smog situation.
“The reason behind the persistent dry spell in the country is climate change, and because of it, there will be more severe extreme weather events in Pakistan with the passage of time,” he said.
He suggested that the provincial government consider changing school timings, especially in the morning, in the areas where the level of smog is too high, allow vehicles with odd and even numbered licence plates on roads on alternate days, reduce the number of public transport vehicles on roads, and disallow incineration of garbage.
PIA flights affected due to fog
The dense smog in addition to affecting vehicular traffic is also interfering with flight schedules.
According to the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) spokesperson, the schedule for flights on November 7 (today) and 8 has been revised while some flights have been cancelled.
For Tuesday (today) at least three flight routes originating from Karachi to Punjab have been cancelled while two, including a flight to Jeddah from Faislabad, have been rerouted.
In expectation of worse weather to follow on Wednesday (November 8), at least two routes, originating from Karachi to Bahawalpur and from Multan to Lahore have been cancelled, while flights to Rahim Yar Khan and Faislabad have been rerouted.
18 killed in accidents across Punjab as smog engulfs province
The spokesperson was apologetic but implored the people to understand that the weather conditions were out of the airline’s control. In addition he said that PIA has to take the safety of the passengers as well as the air staff into consideration and cannot allow planes to operate in poor visibility.
He said that although the PIA Call Centre is informing passengers of the change in schedule, they can also call the centre to obtain flight information before arriving at airports.
The PIA spokesperson, nonetheless, apologised for the inconvenience caused to the passengers.
According to the National Weather Forecasting Centre, the M1 and M3 Motorway was covered in moderate to dense fog post 6pm on Monday while M2 had light smog cover, still resulting in the disruption of bus services post 7pm. However the National Highway from Islamabad to Sukkar was covered in dense smog.