Last year residents of Lahore have seen the thick swath of smog that deluged the entire city within its crippling venom. This extreme incident made us realise that when environmental issues are left unaddressed, nature’s vengeance could be savage. Supposedly, the nature and intensity of that smog was completely different from other episodes because its impacts goes beyond to the health and everyday life disturbance with multiple deaths.

Moreover, excess amount of particulate matter and toxic gases within the air made people suffocate with high horizons of respiratory and throat problems. According to the Environment Protection Department, last episode of smog made us economic loss of 25 billion rupees.

Second largest city of Pakistan, Lahore is growing at a rate of 4% annually and is regarded as one of the most polluted city in Pakistan when it comes to its air quality. Due to the uncontrolled urban expansion and settlements, Lahore got plagued with smog every year. This city is facing uncontrolled increase in the vehicles, large scale losses of trees, unabated growth of industries and most importantly, vicious cycle of unending development converting the city into whole concrete.

As we are living in the centre of the city, my whole family is facing exacerbation of asthma, allergies, eye infections, respiratory tract infections and cardiac pathologies. Due to the uncontrolled development and excessive emissions, we can actually see and smell the smoke, while actually touching the filth, say the residents of the Lahore.

Level of dangerous particulate matter, known as PM2.5, which is small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and bloodstream reached to the alarming level of 1,077 micrograms per cubic meter which is 30 times more than the safe limit. Although, air quality of Dehli hit the headlines worldwide in recent days, experts claim that air quality of Lahore is competing Indian capital. What is more alarming is that the problem is not only confined to the city but according to the figure from the World health Organisation, almost 60,000 Pakistani died due to the bad air quality and high level of fine particulate matter.

Now let’s dig into the managerial instruments at place to deal with the air pollution in Pakistan. Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency and other provincial EPAs are dealing with the air pollution monitoring and management. In 2010, formulation of the National Air Quality Standard was a real breakthrough, however, it didn’t made any difference since we are facing deadly episodes of smog even when the proposed mean level of PM 2.5 and PM 10 were higher from the prescribed figures of the World Health Organisation guidelines. Recent study which was conducted in Lahore over the period of five year showed annual average rate of PM 2.5 was between 136.5 ± 34.1 μg/m3 which is almost 14 times higher than that which is prescribed by the WHO guidelines and was comparable to the world polluted megacities.

At the same time, when emergency measures were needed, government showed its most vigilant performance by buying six air quality monitors but didn’t install them since long and was closely monitoring the air quality situation at the same time. Furthermore, the fact that only around 1% of the country’s industrial establishments report their emissions shows serious lack of implementation of environmental laws and regulations.

In January 2017, Pakistani Brick Kiln Owners came to know about the Zig-Zag kilns through International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Pakistan when representative from the National Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority gathered all stakeholders for an awareness session in synergy with Ministry of Climate Change & EPA in Islamabad. The concept which captured attention of brick kiln owners was the fuel savings and resulting profit increase also including the profit from more quantity of A-Grade quality brick with ZZK technique-technology-adaptation. In synergy with NEECA representative role of President Brick Kiln Owners Association in supporting this transition is commendable along with ICIMOD, EPD Punjab and representatives from the MoCC.

The partially sponsored Pakistani kiln-owners visit to Nepal was arranged and onsite briefings were given to Pakistani Brick kiln owners by ICIMOD. Knowledge gained through visit and training enabled owners of brick kiln in construction of first Zig-Zag kiln in Raiwind Lahore. It is pertinent to mentioned that the operation of that kiln was made successful with team work of brick kiln association, ICIMOD Expert and NEECA. Now there stand more than 40 ZZKs under construction and about 10 Zig-Zag kilns are already constructed. NEECA in collaboration with MoCC through ICIMOD & UNEP is trying to mobilize resources for bring quick transition and facilitate brick kiln owner. One HEC proposal on R&D on ZZK also stands approved which NUST developed NEECA.

Likewise, afforestation projects such as commercial afforestation initiatives are another way which can bring us out of the bleak environmental landscape. Keeping the above mentioned statistics, government should promote such pioneer projects instead of destabilising them due to some filthy political moves and status quo. For instance, South Punjab Forest Company which is facing survival battle is indented to utilise the abandoned government land for forestation by involving private investors. This initiative will bring socioeconomic benefit with persistent GDP growth, environmental sustainability and increased forest cover. India and China have already increased their forest cover by 35% and 45 % respectively. Why should Pakistan, which is already facing scarcity of resources and climate change issues, not follow suit? The tree plantation campaigns in Punjab are facing serious disruption mainly due to the flawed political approach of the ruling PTI. And this is happening despite the demonstrated conviction of PTI Government for Green Pakistan programme launched on its successes in KPK during the last four years. This is so ironic that government is shutting down an initiative which is already working on the same lines of Green Pakistan Programme- its budget has been increased from 1 billion to the 32 billion – while not considering the annihilation of millions of dollars already invested.

In order to address the smog issue and to show that EPD Punjab has taken some initiatives, they were quick to start promotion of Zig-Zag Kiln and developed the policy to stop the operation of conventional kiln in the smog season keeping in view the directions of the Supreme Court Smog Commission. However the Brick Association voluntarily agreed to stop operations during smog period but they kept asking about the days for which closure was required in different districts of Punjab specifically on scientific basis. However no other Province developed such policy which could have at least moved the brick kiln owner towards the ZZKs. However the brick association did invite brick kiln owners from different provinces for trainings arranged by NEECA/ICIMOD primarily. For the brick sector in Pakistan, there is still a long way to go and lot of support and enabling environment is required. The sector roughly consumes 20-25 million tons of coal and has a lot of mitigation potential. It is the need of the hour that government should highlight such project like other green projects recently launched by the new government.

The sense of urgency has to be sustained as besides sensitivity of the topic, there is lot of media interests and public resentment in the current smog story. In this scenario many emergency measures are being taken but long term solution doesn’t seems to be the priority. By keeping the damage any further smog episodes can bring, it is imperative to involve environment regulatory authorities at the front foot with specialised equipment’s, standard protocols, trained personnel. Real solution would requires much more serious and long term measures like nationwide switch towards renewable energy sources, large commercial afforestation projects, phasing out fuel gulping cars, improved and planned infrastructure development.

 

The writer is an environmentalist with M. Phil degree from LSE works at South Punjab Forest Company.

 

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