Planting of urban forests, transferring brick kilns to zigzag design and banning the burning of crop residues has significantly reduced air pollution in Punjab.
Under the Air Quality Index (AQI) Initiative, Lahore ranks 22nd in the list of the world's most polluted cities. The AQI in Lahore was recorded as 78 on Saturday. The highest air pollution in the city was recorded near American School at 121. The index measures the amount of particulate matter (PM) in the air and ranges between 0 and 500, from the least to most polluted levels.
Pakistan has taken several important steps to control air pollution in recent years, most notably the 10 billion tree project launched by the present government. However, the country hosted the celebration of the World Environment Day amid calls for durable policies to convert transport vehicle to electric power, discourage burning of crop residues, ensure online monitoring of pollution caused by industries.
In the Punjab capital, the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) has planted 51 Miyawaki forests in different area, which are growing rapidly. Air quality in the city has also improved due to the forests.
PHA Director General Jawad Ahmad Qureshi told The Express Tribune that the authority had achieved a target of planting 51 Miyawaki forests in a year and now another 30 forests would be planted, which would improve the climate of Lahore. He said that the Miyawaki forests planted along the Lahore Canal, including Jallo Park, would grow rapidly in the coming monsoon season.
Punjab Environment Department Director Naseemur Rehman also said that pollution had declined in Lahore and other areas of the province.
One of the major reasons for this is the limited closure of transport and factories, along with reduced working hours during the lockdown enforced to curb coronavirus. Due to reduction in the movement of citizens, pollution caused by transport vehicles has declined, while on the other hand all the brick kilns in Punjab have been transferred to zigzag technology. Similarly, fewer incidents of burning of residues of wheat crop have been reported than the past years.
On Saturday, 152 Air Quality Index was recorded in Islamabad, 120 in Rawalpindi, 119 in Bahawalpur, 105 in Sahiwal, 97 in Faisalabad, 78 in Lahore and 72 in Raiwind.
Sensors have been installed in Lahore at various locations at the government and non-government levels to monitor air pollution. The recorded 121 AQI near the American School, 104 near LUMS, 90 in Kot Lakhpat, 78 at US Consulate, 70 in Model Town and 67 in FC College.
However, air pollution in the city is likely to increase in the coming days with the AQI reaching 130 on Sunday, followed by 121 on Monday and 109 on Tuesday.
An environmentalist, Aleem Butt, said the current low air pollution was due to low temperatures. The higher the temperature, the greater the distance between the different molecules in the air, while in winter they come closer together, which makes the air heavier and leads to a higher pollution rate. In summer, the air becomes lighter, which makes it less polluted.
The expert said he did not think the government had taken any major steps to permanently reduce the level of dangerous elements in the air.
Butt said air pollution usually increased from October to February and decreased in other months. Major causes of increased pollution include burning of crop residues, toxic and carbon emissions from vehicles and factories, smoke from brick kilns and dust spread during construction, he added.
Stressing the need for long-term solutions, experts said there were four pollution monitoring stations in Lahore, while the number should be increased to over 200 to keep an eye on the situation at the union council level. They said the environment department had four laboratories in Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan and Rawalpindi to test wastewater, smoke and noise, but plans to expand the facilities have been affected by shortage of funds.
They also stressed the need for enforcement of a ban on the production of plastic bags in the province and updating the law about wastewater disposal.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2021.