ISLAMABAD: The dense smog engulfing large swathes of areas in northern Punjab has disrupted the daily routine of the general public as residents have been forced to breathe in extremely toxic air, sparking widespread fears that it may cause a public health emergency in the province.
According to unofficial data, it is estimated that the levels of dangerous particles present in the air has increased dramatically, with the prescribed metric for air quality reading 30 times above the ‘standard safe limit’ over the past few days.
Considering the gravity of the situation at hand, the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) has initiated a top-priority inquiry into documenting and identifying the major causes of smog over Punjab and other parts of the country.
Officials privy to these developments told The Express Tribune that environmental experts along with SUPARCO officials are going to carryout the study is going to lead the task force assigned for this inquiry.
After investigation, a team of experts will compile a comprehensive report containing detailed information on the different pollutants present in the atmosphere which are responsible for causing smog.
The report will also contain an analysis of the data regarding urban air quality, wind patterns and other climatic factors related to smog that will help the government devise policies aimed at tackling the menace in the future, according to the officials.
“This comprehensive study will help Pakistan to get a clear picture of smog, its harmful impact, its intensity; and most of all [it] will help to chalk out a comprehensive plan [on] how to avoid and deal with the issue in the future,” said one of the officials.
Sources have also expressed concern that even though Pakistan has been facing this issue regularly over the past few years, it has failed to develop a strategy to overcome the problem, and part of that failure is attributed to an inability to identify the major factors that lead up to the occurrence of this meteorological phenomenon.
Monitoring air quality
Climate experts also believe that Pakistan lacks the data for monitoring air quality of urban areas for extended periods of time.
“India has disclosed the intensity of the smog in some of its major cities by monitoring air quality on a daily basis, but Pakistan has not yet done because of the absence of air quality monitoring data,” an official said.
“Pakistan has six monitoring stations funded by the government of Punjab, but due to the negligence of the government, they are dysfunctional,” former director general Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Asif Shuja says.
“Currently the impact of climate change in Pakistan is at its peak and there is a need to formulate strategies on a war footing to cope with them, in order to secure are next generation,” he said.
So far this year, 21 people have been killed and another 585 have sustained injuries in smog-related road accidents, according to the data collected by The Express Tribune from the Punjab Emergency Service (Rescue 1122).