Punjab sees spike in pollution as lockdown eased

Cities including Lahore saw betterment in air quality past month, conditions likely to deteriorate in the coming days

Asif Mehmood June 10, 2020
A man drives his rickshaw in heavy smog in Lahore. PHOTO: REUTERS

LAHORE: While Pakistan experienced improved air quality during the coronavirus lockdown, the resumption of traffic and business activities has once again lead to increased air pollution and poor air quality in various parts of the country, including Punjab. It was observed that the two months of the nationwide lockdown had resulted in significant reductions in the amount of Nitrogen Dioxide NO2 and PM2.5 particles in the atmosphere. Although there are no official statistics available for air pollution in Pakistan, the difference can be clearly seen in the images released on February 03, March 30 and April 20 by the European Satellite S5P, showing the situations in various cities before and after the lockdown.

According to Pakistan Air Quality Initiative Head Abid Omar, PM2.5 and NO2 levels had dropped significantly during the days of lockdown. A comparison in which air quality was checked in major cities before the lockdown from March 1 to March 23 and then during the lockdown from March 24 to April 15, revealed a 49% reduction in the amount of NO2 in Lahore, 45% in Peshawar and 56% in the twin-cities. Similarly, on the first day of the lockdown on March 23, the proportion of PM2.5 particles in atmosphere was also recorded to be surprisingly low. In Lahore, the amount of PM2.5 particles was 85 on March 23 219, which was reduced by 63% on March 23 2020 to 32. Likewise, the amount of NO2 particles, which was 113 on March 23 2019, came down to only 76 on the same day a year later on March 23 2020.

In addition to that, as per IQAir’s website, air quality index for Lahore, which ranks seventh among 96 major cities in terms of air pollution, was recorded to be 110 on June 8. While Karachi, which is ranked ninth among the 96 countries, had an air quality index of 92 on June 8. Similarly, the air quality index in Peshawar was 156 while in Islamabad it was recorded 113 and it is expected that air quality in all these cities is likely to deteriorate further in the coming days.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, Punjab Environment Department Director Naseem Ur Rehman said that pollution in various cities of Pakistan, including Lahore, had undoubtedly decreased during the lockdown. “The main reason for this is the suspension of traffic and factories but now that the lockdown has been eased, air pollution has once again started to increase. However, many smoke producing factories closed now, so air pollution levels are still comparatively less than last year and to keep pollution from increasing, all factories and mills that produce toxic fumes, including brick kilns, would remain shut down during the smog season,” informed Rehman.

On the other hand, citizens are also of the opinion that air pollution was reduced during the lockdown and they could feel the air quality improving in the provincial capital, among other cities. “The kind of blue sky that can be seen these days could not be imagined in the past,” expressed Dr. Rizwan Ahmed. Validating Dr Rizwan Ahmed’s claim, Chief Meteorologist Sahib Zad Khan said that the reduction in pollution during the lockdown has also affected visibility. “In fact, it was due to the absence of pollution, the moon of Eid was seen below 10 degrees this time, although the moon is not visible at this level in normal days,” he told The Express Tribune.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2020.

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