PESHAWAR: Having barely recovered from the thick smog which had hung over parts of the province for months and fears growing that construction of a mega project in the city will only exacerbate pollution, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa cabinet on Thursday decided to closely monitor the quality of air.
Moreover, they grant the chief minister the authority to close down education institutions and other non-essential offices in case of an air pollution emergency.
The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) cabinet met at the Civil Secretariat on Thursday evening with Chief Minister Pervez Khattak in the chair.
K-P Health Secretary Abid Majeed gave a detailed presentation on the quality of air in the provincial capital. He said that globally the air quality index (AQI) determines the number of harmful particles in the air.
Data from private AQI devices showed that air quality in Peshawar was not the best. Moreover, Khattak was told that the health department was currently in the process of importing three machines to monitor AQI across Peshawar.
Officials present at the meeting said that Khattak expressed concern over the prevailing situation and called for a survey to ascertain the factors contributing to the environmental degradation in Peshawar. The chief minister also directed to draft laws which would safeguard the provincial capital from the negative environmental effects. Moreover, the concerned departments were told ensure that laws on industrial emission, traffic management, vehicle fitness certification and brick kilns are implemented.
In the event the AQI crosses acceptable levels, the cabinet also authorized the chief minister to decide, on the recommendation of the chief secretary, to take drastic measures to protect the public’s health, including the closure of educational institutions and non-essential offices.
An official of the K-P government said that after inception of the Public Health Committee under the K-P Public Health (Surveillance and Response) Act, 2017, the K-P Health Department had taken notice of the rising issues of air pollution and their impact on the health of citizens, especially the elderly, those suffering from asthma and minors.
“K-P Environmental Protection Agency was requested to inform if they had the resources to indicate AQI so that its levels could be monitored and measures are taken for controlling them,” the official explained.
But with the environment agency failing to provide a response on two occasions, the health department took it upon itself to acquire the necessary equipment and Chief Secretary Azam Khan arranged the funds for it.
Meanwhile, the health department also acquired the voluntary services of Ali Raza, who runs a company called Peshawar Air, as part of a public-private partnership.
Data from it was made available to the public through the health department’s website.
Officials who were aware of the discussion in Thursday’s meeting noted that the slow pace of traffic in the city had been touted as one of the contributors to air pollution in the city. In this regard, the entire system to check the fitness of vehicles also came under question and directives were issued to review the system.
“Industrial waste from the industrial zone in Peshawar was going unchecked,” said one official adding that it was important now because the AQI from Hayatabad alone was above 280. The international standard for clean air ranges between 0-50, 101-150 points is unhealthy for sensitive groups, 151-200 points unhealthy for the general public. Above 300 points the air is considered hazardous.
As per the official handout of the meeting issued by the K-P information department, the cabinet also decided to relocate chips crusher plants to a safe distance from the population within six months.
The district government, meanwhile, would finalise the relocation sites and acquire land for the purpose.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 2nd, 2018.
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