Just as the toxic sludge that descends on northern Punjab each winter has become almost metronomic in its regularity, so has the government “response” to the environmental hazard that is smog. Bold claims, self-congratulatory initiatives, blame games, followed by a meek surrender into the night; the pattern has become far too predictable. In the final months of this year, as Lahore once more ranks high among the most air polluted cities in the world, the government’s commitment to fixing this problem is once more under the spotlight – and it is severely found wanting.

Many in government circles are flippant when it comes to this problem, often allocating only miniscule resources to hastily formed bodies to find a solution. Smog – thought of as a mild inconvenience – is easily relegated to the lower rungs of government priority. There cannot be a graver mistake. Pakistan loses an estimated 135,000 people every year to air pollution. Smog intensifies this pollution close to the surface, increasing the risk of respiratory diseases, stroke, and cardiovascular episodes. Our healthcare system – already bursting at the seams - cannot handle the added pressure.

Even more disappointing than the lax attitude is practice of simply lying to the public regarding what is to be done. Press conferences declaim “task forces” and fancy “air pollution monitors” to give and impression of proactivity – alas it is all a sham. First comes the blame game; smog is caused by crop burning in Indian Punjab. That is partially true, but other pollution sources contribute too.

Even if we believe that crop burning is the prime cause, what is being done to stop this practice in our Punjab? Take any road leaving the provincial capital, the M-2 to Islamabad, the GT Road to Gujrat, or the Multan Road to the south; you can spot the black smears of burned crops stretching across farmlands after farmlands.

What was done to stop this? Why was nothing achieved? The government has to answer these questions as the province chokes in toxins.