LAHORE    -   Parts of country Thursday received rainfall of varying intensities on Thursday, providing much-needed relief from smoggy conditions. Rains and strong winds also decreased the mercury level.

Excessive pollution and persistent dryness had caused considerable increase in weather related diseases, especially among kids and elderly people. The recent spell has given some relief by decreasing the intensity of hazardous pollutants, especially particulate matter as thin as PM10 and PM2.5.

“Excessive pollution caused alarming increase in skin dryness and allergy, eye itching, common cold, respiratory tract infection, cough and flu and wheezy chest”, said Dr Rauf, leading family.

He said rain, though light, will help remove some of the pollution. “It is a big relief for the pollution stricken people”, he said.

Minister for Finance Makhdoom Hashim Jawan Bakht claimed the prevailing condition was not smog but smoke due to burning of crop residue on the other side of the border.

 “Change in air direction is resulting in inclusion of additional quantity of smoke in the air of Lahore. If it continues, there are chances of smog in fog season, he added.

The minister informed that a monitoring committee comprising stakeholders has been constituted. This committee will ensure necessary steps for controlling the menace of environmental pollution. He directed the Environment Protection Department to prepare project cycles of ADP schemes and the latest system should be used for monitoring. Identification of one yearly and three months target is essential for planning, he added.

A spokesperson said the EPD geared up smog awareness on special directions of provincial minister for environment Muhammad Rizwan.

The teams distributed facemasks among motorcyclists, motorists and pedestrians on important roads of the city.

EPD spokesman said that pollution last night was due to burning of crop residue on Indian side and the rain has helped improving the situation. He urged the people to use face masks or handkerchief outdoors to protect themselves from pollution.

Schoolchildren have filed a petition in the Lahore High Court (LHC) seeking directives to enforce anti-smog effects and environment protection programme

The court directed the Punjab government to file its reply in the writ petition filed by the students. In the petition, the students sought the attention of the Lahore High Court chief justice to the deteriorating air quality in Lahore and its surrounding areas. Through Rafay Alam Advocate, the children informed the court that the Environment Protection Department, Punjab, considered the air quality index (AQI) of 182 as safe to breath, when by international standards the index should not cross 50.

However, the rights group in its statement advised the people in Lahore to “avoid all physical activity outdoors” as the Air Quality Index in the provincial capital had reached 484 at 10am on that day while that the threshold for “hazardous” levels of air quality was 300.

It said, “During the ‘smog season’ – from October to January – air quality reaches ‘hazardous’ levels, as recorded by multiple, independent sources including the air quality monitors installed by the United States Consulate in Lahore and the crowdsourced data collated by the Pakistan Air Quality Initiative.”

“The high level of smog is neither a new problem, nor one that came without warning. 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,” said Rimmel Mohydin, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International.