Air pollution in Pakistan’s urban regions is among the most severe environmental problem in the world and it caused considerable human health hazard and damage to the economy.
Pakistan is one of the most populated countries of South Asia and it is going through simultaneous motorization and enhanced utilization of energy. Quality of life and human health in large urban centers is damaged by air pollution and also contributed to degradation of environment.
Air pollution sources
Over last 20 years, there is huge jump was observed in the number of vehicles in Pakistan which was from 2 million to 10.6 million which contributed to the annual growth rate of 8.5%. From the year 1991 to 2012, there is 450% increase was observed in the number of motorcycles and scooters and 650% increase was observed in the number of motorcars. The number of mobile sources boosted up highly after 2003.
Sufficient amount of air pollutants are emitting to air from those industries which are burning fossil fuel as a source of energy. Major contributors of poor quality of air are large-scale factories which use furnace oil having higher sulfur contents, some which are cement industries, fertilizer plants, sugar industries, steel mills and power plants. Large number of small or medium scale industries like waste recycles plants, brick kilns, re-rolling steel mills, recycling of steel and plastic forming factories are also contributed at higher rates in urban air pollution. These industries also produces huge amounts of industrial waste comprises of wood, plastic, paper and tires. To overcome the electricity shortage problem usage of small diesel power generators also added-up in air pollution. Low or no maintenance of industrial appliances like boiler or generator also causes air pollution.
Burning of solid waste
Non-point sources like burning of solid waste also caused air pollution in Pakistan. According to estimations there is daily basis generation of about 54,000 tons solid waste is observed in Pakistan, most of which is burned for waste reduction. This unethical and unaware burning of solid waste lead to the production of toxic gases like carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the environment.
In Pakistan burning of crop residual is common practice followed by farmers which contributed to air pollution by producing particulate matter. Particulate matter in air cause some serious issues to human health and environment like production of smog, respiratory diseases, eye irritation, dust and many others.
According to World Health Organization (WHO) in Pakistan, from 2007 to 2011 reported concentrations of particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and lead (Pb) were greatly higher than WHO guideline for air quality.
In Pakistan, top priority environmental issues are air pollution, water scarcity, lack of sanitation and hygienic conditions. As a result of these problems public have to face problems like higher premature mortalities and learning disabilities. Almost 35% Pakistanis are living in urban areas out of which lower class community faced more outdoor air pollution and affected adversely.
In 2005, due to ambient air pollution in urban areas more than 22,600 deaths of adult population was observed. Only outdoor air pollution caused almost 80,000 admissions in hospitals each year, from which 8,000 cases of chronic bronchitis and about 5 millions cases are of poor respiration in children under the age of 5 years.
South Asian regions have highest ratio of harm caused by air pollution in the urban areas of Pakistan and in these areas high profile cases of death and depression was observed which also include traffic accidents. All of these evidences are enough to confirm the urgent need to improve air quality in Pakistan, but unfortunately this issue attained least attention. This issue must include as a priority issue while making policies related to environmental protection of Pakistan.
Current situation, along with industrialization and urbanization, indicated that quality of air in Pakistan may get worse over passing time period unless required interventions are adopted in short span of time and also there is need of strengthening the institutional and technical capabilities of the organizations working for air quality management (AQM).
There is also dire need of allocation of resources to AQM as it acts as main pillars for green growth of country. According to World Bank, countries which choose “clean and sustainable” development are growing much faster than the countries who achieve development at the cost of environment.
Above mentioned trends of air pollution in Pakistan suggest that, without achieving targeted measurements for the reduction of urban air pollution, this issue could become even worse in upcoming times and may affect individuals at higher rate. According to economic calculations of 2010, In South Asia, Pakistan is most urban populated country; about 37% of its population is located in urban areas. It is also predicted that more than 60% of Pakistan’s population will become urbanize by 2050. Urbanization and industrialization when combined with motorization, it leads to the increased deterioration of urban air quality.
Government of Pakistan (GoP) should seriously think on implementation of priority interventions in the short term and building the institutional and technical capacity to adopt additional measures over the medium and long term.
M.Sc.(Hons) Environmental Sciences, University of Agriculture Faisalabad, Pakistan.