When NASA pointed out that farmers burning crop stubbles in India might be a major reason for a smog blanket in Lahore, our government was most likely overjoyed. This meant that the blame pinned on them for destroying the ecology of Lahore could be very well deflected on India and all would continue business as usual. But the smog has persisted and the haze refuses to budge. How does the Punjab government intend to deal with this dangerous hazard that threatens the health and safety of millions of people?

Lahore is the second largest industrial city in all of Pakistan and the second most populous. There are a multitude of reasons contributing to the smog; trans-boundary crop fires, mass traffic, rubbish incineration, expansive urban development and fossil fuel burning everywhere from vehicles to industries.

The solutions proposed to the CM, by a committee he created to tackle this situation, included shutting down of industrial units around Lahore temporarily. So far the district administration has closed down thirty-eight factories in Darog-e-wala, Band road and Shumali area, with four more closing tomorrow. Ten other factories were given notice and the crackdown will continue on all those industrial units that are emitting sulphur dioxide directly into the atmosphere.

While, as short term measures, these are absolutely essential to clear this choking smog, this is an opportunity for the provincial government to make some permanent changes in the way the industrial sector functions. The federal government has turned a blind eye towards the powerful refineries and did not pressure them to take corrective measures even though the problem had been identified long ago. These refineries have continued to produce diesel, which was sending dangerous amounts of sulphur dioxide into the air through machines running on them, including heavy transport and construction machinery.

In 2005, the Word Bank Environment Assessment of Pakistan calculated that urban air pollution caused around 22,000 premature deaths among adults and 700 deaths among young children annually, and cost the Pakistan exchequer some Rs 65 billion a year in health-related costs. Here we are a decade later, creating hasty policies and performing emergency crackdowns because we refuse to implement a proper policy framework to address the problem of air pollution.