Smog’s health risk alarms experts

No rain forecast while number of patients in hospitals rises


ADNAN LODHI November 30, 2021
An aerial shot shows people commute along a street amid heavy smoggy conditions in Lahore on Thursday. PHOTO: AFP

LAHORE:

With Punjab government and all relevant departments failing to alleviate the worst level of air pollution and smog in Lahore, health experts have demanded the declaration of an emergency in view of the increasing number of patients admitted to hospitals for treatment of diseases caused by the environmental condition.

While the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and City District Government Lahore (CDGL) appear to be struggling to effectively curb the smog, the authorities have also failed to shut thousands of small factories that are contributing to the toxic level of chemicals in the air, worsening the smog across the city.

In the prevailing situation, a bad news is that rain is not likely in the coming days in Lahore and the smog and dry weather may prove to be a serious health risk for citizens.

Health experts and environmentalists are demanding the declaration of an emergency situation in hospitals as, according to them, the number of patients has increased by 50 per cent due to smog-related diseases.

On the other hand, the EPA through a notification barred all its officials from sharing data related to pollution and smog, especially with the media.

The departments responsible to improve the environment appear helpless to bring the situation under control while Lahore remains in the list of the most polluted cities of the world.

The government had already announced three holidays in schools to protect children from harmful effects of the smog, but the move did not lead to any improvement in the situation as the causes of air pollution still exist.

“It is evident that our government policies and actions have not proved fruitful in improving the conditions and it appears that we have not done anything to handle the situation. Especially in the provincial capital, thousands of factories are still contaminating the air. Our data shows that 90% such factories are using tyres and worst quality of coal tar, causing toxic pollution and smog,” a senior official of the EPA said while speaking to The Express Tribune.

Prominent environmentalist and Director of the Integrated Mountain Research Department Dr Munawer Sabir said the whole world was aware of the top ranks in polluted cities but the bureaucracy and the government appeared oblivious to the gravity of the situation with no major step taken in this regard in recent days.

“The bad thing is that there is no rain forecast for the coming month, which would likely worsen the pollution level and our hospitals may be filled with patients,” he said.

“We are blaming the neighbouring country over burning of residue rice crop but the smoke caused by these fires does not pose as high a health risk as compares to the burning of tyres in factories in Lahore. At a moment when we need to take practical steps, our departments are playing a blame game and not accepting the responsibility, while other countries are doing planning for the future to avoid smog,” Dr Sabir said.

Sir Ganga Ram Hospital’s former medical superintendent Dr Abdul Basit said, “A large number of residents of Lahore and other big cities are experiencing health problems caused by smog and we have recorded an increase of about 50% in the number of patients in hospitals. The number of patients of asthma, throat and eye diseases and breathing problems is speedily increasing, and we may face a difficult situation to handle in the coming days.”

The doctor said the situation demanded emergency measures in hospitals.  He said the government must immediately launch a crackdown against all factories that are responsible for pollution and jeopardising the health of the people public in the prevailing situation.

“I will also advise the people to especially take care of their children and elders at home as majority of the patients affected by the air pollution belong to these age groups,” Dr Abdul Basit added.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2021.

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