Deadly to breathe

The study says Pakistan is among the top 10 countries for premature deaths

Editorial June 16, 2024


Air pollution continues to be a pressing issue in Pakistan, with critics noting that almost all government efforts to improve air quality are essentially eyewash because of fossil-fuel intensive energy policies. A recent study by Singapore’s prestigious Nanyang Technological University highlights the impact that air pollution has on human life, finding that fine particulate matter “was associated with approximately 135 million premature deaths globally” from 1980 to 2020. The study notes in part that the onset of many old-age ailments, including cancers and heart and lung diseases, is coming much earlier than expected due to people being exposed to poor air quality.

The study says Pakistan is among the top 10 countries for premature deaths because of high prevalence of ‘PM 2.5’ particles, which come from vehicle and industrial emissions as well as natural sources like fires and dust storms. These particles are harmful to human health when inhaled because they are small enough to enter the bloodstream. While the study notes that global factors are also at play, with climate patterns such as El Nino and the Indian Ocean Dipole intensifying the concentration of pollutants in the air, we cannot just blame climate change and the environmental damage caused by the developed world and other big polluters. A major part of improving air quality is moving away from fossil-fuel-based energy sources and sustainable urban planning. Unfortunately, through a combination of cost-cutting and short-cutting, we have opted to go all-in on coal for electricity and are making barely any effort to encourage quick transition to electric cars.

The myopic decisions of every recent government have contributed to Pakistan becoming the country with the world’s second-worst air quality, according to a separate report by Swiss monitor IQAir earlier this year. Yes, we need foreign assistance to tackle the problem, but we also need to take every step that is within our control, because an unhealthy populace cannot fully contribute to development and prosperity.


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