These three Pakistani teens want the truth about the air we are breathing

The youngsters are taking action over high levels of air pollution that engulf Pakistan every year


Newsdesk November 06, 2019
PHOTO: Laiba Siddiqi

Three teenagers from Lahore are the latest members of Gen Z to try and save the world by taking action against dangerous levels of air pollution.

Mishael Hyat, 17, Leila Alam, 13, and Laiba Siddiqi, 18, have accused the Punjab government of violating their right to life and health by under-reporting the severity of Lahore’s polluted air, reported Buzzfeed.

The teenagers filed a petition in Lahore High Court on Tuesday with their complaints, aided by Alam’s father, Ahmad Rafay Alam, who’s serving as their lawyer.

PHOTO: Ahmad Rafay Alam PHOTO: Ahmad Rafay Alam

Rafay told BuzzFeed News that the severity of the pollution dawned on him when he watched a video on Facebook wherein an interviewer went to a classroom in Lahore and asked the children who were sick to raise their hands. “It was heartbreaking. More than 90% of them were sick and had a family member that was ill because of the air too,” he said.

The petition includes a report from Lahore’s Children’s Hospital which states that the medical center has seen a threefold increase in admissions presenting chest or cardiovascular complaints in the past decade.

The three teenagers’ petition names and targets several government agencies in charge of monitoring air quality, such as the Punjab Environmental Protection Council, the Punjab Safe Cities Authority, the Environment Protection Department of Punjab, and the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency.

PHOTO: TWITTER/AYSHA RAJA PHOTO: TWITTER/AYSHA RAJA

They say the classification of air used by the government to measure how bad the air is (known as its air quality index or AQI) is at odds with the classification used by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Air quality that is classified as severe by the US EPA only shows up as moderate on the Lahore government’s website. The petition claims that the website does not properly stipulate the severity of air pollution, therefore exposing people to unacceptable levels of risk. This includes the lack of information on different types of pollutants present in the air.

Hyat is a competitive athlete and swimmer who represented Pakistan in the South Asian Games in 2016 and is getting ready to compete in the games once more this year.

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“To swim better, we have to increase our lung capacity. So I’m supposed to run and cycle every day and that has been virtually impossible of late,” Hyat said. “And the more I exert myself in the current levels of pollution, the more susceptible I become to respiratory illness. It’s a terrible situation for athletes — children and old people in particular."

Siddiqi was part of the organizing team for the worldwide climate strike last month, in which young people walked out of schools and offices in 3,600 different locations to call attention to the climate emergency.

PHOTO: Mishael Hyat PHOTO: Mishael Hyat

The movement began with 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, who began striking alone every Friday in August last year outside of the Swedish parliament in Stockholm to call attention to climate change. In the year since, the movement has spurred hundreds to thousands of children to strike regularly.

Siddiqi is from Karachi and studies at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). “Karachi is pretty densely polluted too, but I’ve developed a chronic cough since I came to Lahore and I haven’t even seen the worst of the smog season yet,” she said during the interview. “I also know about other people, especially those with asthma, who have really been struggling.”

Recently, air pollution levels in Lahore were reported as some of the worst in the world and Amnesty International issued a statement that the hazardous air quality in Pakistan actually violates human rights.

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