LAHORE - Burning of solid waste, emissions from moving and stationary sources, continuous demolition and construction activity and fast disappearance of trees for development purposes have caused considerable increase in air and noise pollution in major cities including Lahore.

While accepting high level of pollution in urban areas in general and major cities especially Lahore in particular, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials claimed that the level of pollution was decreasing due to lesser congestion after gradual improvement of road infrastructure.

The environmentalists, however, contradicted the claim, saying that improvement of road infrastructure was only worsening the situation by eating up green areas and attracting extra vehicles that was ultimately leading to more congestion and excessive emissions.

“Situation on Ferozepur Road and Maulana Shaukat Ali Road in Johar Town Lahore are examples,” said Imrana Tiwana, prominent architect and environmentalist. “Developed countries are replacing concrete with green cover for reducing carbon footprints. The situation is opposite here. The development should be sustainable. Environment and quality of human life should not be compromised on the name of development,” she said.

Emissions from brick kilns, unfit vehicles, use of rubber tyres and coal as fuel in factories, cutting of trees and fast replacement of green areas with concrete structures and roads are major factors in high level of air and noise pollution, posing serious health hazards for millions of residents and those visiting major cities daily for earning livelihood.

Particulate Matter (PM), Ozone (O3), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Nitric Oxides (NO and NO2) and Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) are major pollutants and their levels exceed World Health Organization (WHO) standards. Pollutants restrict photosynthesis, increase respiratory infections, birth defects and acid rains. Lead, chromium, cadmium and zinc are also present in fumes released by steel industry that cause collapse of central nervous system, degeneration of joints, lung and kidney diseases.

As major cities shared almost the similar factors with little or no efforts to overcome the menace of pollution, the residents and visitors are at risk of developing health related problems that is increasing burden on public sector hospitals and on pockets of individuals.

The EPA has also admitted that air pollution was costing Pakistan one percent of its total GDP in the form of respiratory health problems and premature deaths. The situation is really alarming when the victim is the sole bread winner of his/her family. “Allergy, lugs infection and stomach problems are affecting every second person in the congested and industrialized areas and in localities where construction activities are going on. People with allergy should avoid going to places where construction work is in progress. People should also wear masks to save them from inhaling polluted air,” said Dr Abdul Rauf, a family physician running clinic in the congested locality of Farooq Gunj in Northern Lahore.

According to a report of WHO, Lahore is among 10 most polluted cities in the world. Since other cities shared the similar factors, the situation is almost the same there, said experts who desired immediate mitigation measures like intensive plantation on war footing, proper maintenance of public transport and private vehicles, putting to an end trend of burning of garbage and tyres during protests and installation of treatment plants at factories.

The EPA has installed Ambient Air Quality monitoring stations in eight major cities including Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Rahim Yar Khan and Sheikhupura.

“As all the cities are different in sizes, we cannot exactly tell that which one is more polluted. Big cities like Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan, Gujranwala and Faisalabad, however, shared almost similar pollution causing factors. As such all cities have more or less the same level of pollution. Level of pollution varies from one locality to the other. Industrialized and congested localities have higher level of pollution as compared to the residential areas due to emissions from moving and stationary sources. Moreover, emission level varies from time to time,” said Director Environment Protection Department (EPD) Nasim-ur-Rehman.

He claimed that the level of pollution has decreased gradually due to lesser congestion after improvement of road infrastructure in major cities especially Lahore. Introduction of Euro II standard diesel busses and petrol powered cars have also reduced emission level, he said, adding, there was still need of more efforts to overcome the menace of pollution.

He suggested intensive plantation on war footing to reduce level of pollution. He endorsed that all construction projects should be monitored properly by the executing agencies to ensure the activity was not polluting the air.

He claimed that the department was vigilant and could order suspension of construction activity and impose fine on developers for not taking measures to save the environment. He said that the EPA was also carrying out regular campaigns to check violation from industrial units.

In the event of violation, the cases are taken to courts which prescribe penalties and punishments.