Low-income developing countries around the world have always suffered from the problem of pollution. The onset of climate change has aggravated the effects to an extent that it is severely affecting and jeopardising human health. A recent WHO report states that 9 out of 10 people in low- and middle-income countries breathe air that exceeds guideline limits for pollutants. Figures are alarming and out of the 7 million people who die of air pollution worldwide, 4.2 million die from exposure to air pollution and smog.
Medical experts say that continuous exposure to smog significantly increases chances of premature death due to respiratory and heart-related illnesses. Such exposure is also detrimental to pregnant women and infants. Unfortunately, a major portion of the population is vulnerable, with smog becoming so prevalent, particularly in Lahore, that scientists are calling it a fifth season. In and around the months of November, AQI index of air in Lahore rises dangerously high to about 500 — a level that causes respiratory difficulties even for otherwise healthy individuals. To add to this, industrial cities such as Karachi are neither able to regulate toxic pollutants being released by factories while roads have seen an increase in the number of vehicles. All this further adds to the depreciating air quality.
But why isn’t such an alarming situation prompting adequate action? The problem is that Pakistan is used to reactionary response. But since the effect on human health takes time, sometimes years to develop, the government does not consider this as a problem.
Regulation is key to mitigate the issue. The Sindh government should be tasked to control carbon emissions from industries and the transport sector. The number of cars and ramshackle vehicles on roads also requires regulations. In Punjab, the government must reform the agriculture sector and find better alternatives for crop burning.