Hard to breathe : Peshawar’s toxic air a major health hazard

The overpopulated city’s motor vehicles and industrial units arepart of the problem

Wisal Yousafzai May 16, 2022


A spiraling population and lack of tree cover have exacerbated the air pollution crisis in Peshawar over the years and with no solution in sight the city’s residents have to put up with breathing in toxic air for the foreseeable future.

A little while back, Peshawar, a city with more than 2 million residents, was declared the third most polluted city in the country and now a report by a civil society organization has highlighted that this is due to the annual particulate matter (PM) of 2.5 which exceeds the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines by 12 to 16 times.

The report, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, states that the current PM levels even exceed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Environmental Quality Standards by more than 4 times. As a result, on average the residents of Peshawar are losing 2.3 years of their lives due to the poor air quality. Dawar Butt, who authored the report, informed The Express Tribune that a major reason behind the air pollution was transport emissions.

“Transport emissions contribute 58.46% of the pollutants, followed by dust, domestic sector, industry, waste-burning, and lastly commercial activity.” Transport emissions which have a direct relation with the increase in sales of motor vehicles are on the rise given that 850,000 motor vehicles were registered by the end of 2020 in Peshawar - nearly half of these were motorcycles and scooters whose presence in the city has increased 168.8% from 2012 to 2020 — according to the report. Additionally, the 900 industrial units and 450 brick kilns found in K-P’s capital actively contribute to the miserable air quality. Ahmad Rafay Alam, an environmental lawyer, while talking to The Express Tribune said that the K-P government must take notice of the deteriorating air quality in Peshawar and equip the provincial Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the necessary manpower, equipment, and budget to fulfill its duties and responsibilities. “Civil society, universities, start-ups, and the private sector should also do more to create awareness and lobby for changes required to bring air quality to less unhealthy levels,” Alam suggested.

The Director General of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) K-P, Muhammad Anwer Khan, when asked about Peshawar’s toxic air, said that the lack of access to real-time data and reliable evidence is one of the biggest challenges in effectively tackling air pollution in the city. “The EPA intends to work closely with all stakeholders within the government, civil society, and business community in achieving the objective of healthy air quality in Peshawar,” Khan told The Express Tribune.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2022.


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