The phenomenon of fog is not new in this part of the world but smog is something that has been hanging around in the urban areas of Punjab for the last one decade in the winters. The phenomenon of smog, however, is not very old. It has appeared in the last one decade but no attention is being paid in this regard. The condition of fog that has smoke or soot in it especially dust particles carrying with them toxic chemicals is an alarming situation. These dust particles cannot be extracted by our nose and throat. They reach into our lungs and stay there for years causing damage. The tiniest ones can go directly into our blood stream. So if you have dry cough, cough, are breathless while doing some little physical work. It is quite possible smog has got you and your respiratory system has been damaged.  

Lahore city is considered as the cultural heart of Pakistan, which is these days enveloped in this thick smog. For almost two or three weeks, the city is smothered by a thick haze of mint and air pollution which causes respiratory illness and many other health issues.

Due to heavy traffic in Lahore and other cities in the plains of Punjab, emissions of smoke and sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are much greater than in rural areas mainly due to traffic congestion and ongoing development work. A large part of the gases that form smog is produced when fuel are burnt.

The most harmful thing about smog is ground-level ozone and fine airborne particles. Ground-level ozone forms when pollutants released from gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles and oil-based solvents react with heat and sunlight. It is harmful to humans, animals, and plants.  Every day, the average person inhales 20,000 litres of air. Everytime we breathe we risk inhaling dangerous chemicals that have found their way into air.

According to Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency, the economic losses due to fog during December and January amounted to over Rs25 billion per annum.

According to the World Bank report that was published in 2013 the formation of smog, haze and fog visibility in Lahore city remains very poor and sometimes situation becomes so critical that air and road travelling has to be suspended.  Every day there is increase in number of cars and motorbikes on the roads because the government is taking a longtime to scale up its public transportation system and on the other side we are experiencing increase in pollution. The real trouble is that smog during the winters cannot escape the atmosphere as it can during other seasons. Each winter the motorway in Punjab is closed everyday for some hours and a few days because of fog. Trees absorb the toxic emissions from the thousands of cars that travel along the canal each day. They calculated that currently mature trees on the canal in Lahore are absorbing 140lbs of pollutants daily. If the number of trees to be cut was 1,850, pollution increase would amount to 259,000 lbs daily, without calculating the increase due to the volume of traffic.

Naseemur   Rehman, Director EIA Environment Protection Department said all our cities especially Lahore where carbon dioxide and so many other gases are high when compared with WHO standards carries 150 microgram per cubic metre. In urban areas it ranges from 200 mpcm to 300 and above. “Due to traffic congestion the emission of smoke that has high concentration of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide that exceeds WHO standards.

“For the phenomenon of fog and generally pollution in the air one parameter that exceeds the WHO standards are the dust particles. The toxins in the smoke from vehicles and industries stick to dust and mix with the fog.

“Take Lahore for example we have 25 points where there is traffic congestion. With the reconstruction of Ferozepur Road these points have been reduced but still there is16 to 17 points exist. The way to avoid smog is to ensure signal free traffic lanes.

“If Garhi Shahu Chowk is made signal free and similarly Yateem Khana Chowk too is made signal free that would reduce air pollution.

“There is ban on production of two stroke engines. But the two stroke motor bikes and rickshaws numbering hundreds of thousands are still plying on the road and contributing to air pollution.

“The element of dust particles polluting the air is also due to continuous development work for many years now. For example Ferozepur Road underpass and Jail Road underpass that are on left side will now be made on the right side to smooth traffic flow.

“Though we are still not at WHO standards but the air pollution has decreased in recent years and it is mainly due to fact that PHA planted about 250,000 plants in the last four or five years. These plants have grown and are contributing in lessening the air pollution,” Rehman explained.  

Emissions from coal and furnace oil-based thermal power plants, agricultural waste burning and iron steel industries. Another source of black carbon in the air is incomplete combustion of motor increased at an alarming rate of 200-300 per cent since 1980. Diesel vehicles due to overloading, faulty injection nozzles and weak engines emit excessive black carbon.

According to the National Institutes of Health, both industrial smog and photochemical smog can create major health risks, including asthma, lung tissue damage, bronchial infections and heart problems

Heavy smog in Lahore is increasing in intensity as well as the length of smoggy period every year because of constantly growing number of polluting vehicles which jam the city roads. Many of the vehicles moving on the city roads are old vintage and the engines guzzle petrol and diesel and spew out poisonous fumes. Many countries including America are taking major steps to reduce smog. They have made laws including restriction on when and what chemical factory can release into atmosphere.

Everyone can do their part to reduce smog by changing a few behaviors such as: drive less, use public transportation when possible. Smog level reduction is a realistic and obtainable goal that can be achieved if everyone does his or her part to help. On the government side there is need to provide more facilities of transportation. There is urgent need to start metro train service in big cities of Pakistan as globally it has been proved to be the only answer to address transportation.