Rights watchdog Amnesty International on Wednesday said Punjab’s failure to protect people from hazardous air violating their rights to life and health.
For most of the past year, air quality in Punjab has been rated at ‘near unhealthy’ and ‘very unhealthy.’ As the weather cools, the air quality often reaches ‘hazardous’ levels, with provincial capital Lahore in the past week hitting Air Quality Index values exceeding 300—and hitting 484 on Wednesday—the threshold where the air quality is hazardous to the general population. This is often linked to poor fuel quality, emissions from heavily polluting industries, and crop burning. Climate change further compounds the issue by trapping dirty air and not allowing it to dissipate.
“The high level of smog is neither a new problem, nor one that came without warning,” said Rimmel Mohydin, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International. “The government of Pakistan needs to do much more to adequately address such a severe public health crisis—one that endangers people’s health and even their lives.”
The worst part about this is that the least fortunate sector of society, such as laborers and farmers, are most affected by this bad quality air due to the nature of their work. They are forced to breathe in this hazardous air while performing arduous work throughout the day
Medical health professionals in Pakistan say the rise in smog often coincides with a rise in numerous health concerns, including asthma, lung damage, bronchial infections and heart problems and shortened life expectancy. Young children and the elderly are most at risk, with the relative pollution being likened to smoking at least a pack of cigarettes a day.
According to the 2015 findings of the medical journal Lancet, 22 percent of annual deaths in Pakistan are caused by pollution, and the majority of those are due to air pollution.
“Air pollution and the climate crisis are intricately linked. It exacerbates existing inequalities and paves the way for human rights violations. If authorities continue to stall making concerted efforts to address the smog crisis, it will continue to devastate human life,” said Mohydin.
In 2017, the Lahore High Court ordered the formation of a Smog Commission, which issued several recommendations to improve the environment in May 2018. These included the adoption and implementation of the Punjab Clean Air Action Plan, establishing Smog Response Desks at district levels, and utilizing appropriate technologies that reduce emissions of harmful pollutants from brick kilns. Most of these recommendations have not yet been implemented.
“There is something very wrong when the air becomes so toxic that you cannot breathe without hurting yourself. The government can no longer afford to waste time while people are choking to death,” added Mohydin.
Lahoris have been advised to:
- No outdoor activity, completely
- Do not open windows and doors frequently
- Use protective gear (masks, glasses, bike helmets)
- Stay hydrated
Imtiaz is the founder of Glisten Pakistan. He has over 5 years of experience in blog writing and content management in the technology sector.