Lahore's Battle Against Smog In Winters

Among various pollutants, the major air pollutant in Lahore is Particulate Matter 2.5, whose concentration is almost “39.8 times” higher than the WHO recommended value.

Lahore's Battle Against Smog In Winters

We have all been hearing the word smog more frequently during the last few years, but not all are aware of what it is. Smog is a form of air pollution. It is a combination of two words: smoke and fog. It is formed mainly due to the photochemical reaction of oxides of nitrogen with other primary and secondary pollutants to form volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In winter, these pollutants get trapped inside fog due to no inversion. This results in a brownish haze, causing lower visibility and health problems. Smog, particularly in winter, poses a significant environmental challenge.

Lahore, which is one of the most populated cities in the world and is named the “city of gardens,” is now, according to the air quality index, the most polluted city in the world. Covered in a blanket of smog in winter, people in Lahore are under various health risks, and environmental impacts cannot be ignored as well. In December 2023, the AQI was 249, considered extremely unhealthy. Among various pollutants, the major air pollutant in Lahore is Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5), whose concentration is almost “39.8 times” higher than the WHO recommended value.

In 2017, the Punjab Environmental Protection Council, following Lahore’s High Court order, passed the Smog Act, but in 2019, the Punjab AQI was declared unreasonable. Now all the real-time data on air quality is provided by different non-state departments.

Air pollution is not only an issue in Lahore but also in many other cities in Pakistan, like Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Karachi, etc. At this point, one question may come into the minds of many: why is there intense smoke in Lahore and the surrounding region but not in other cities like Karachi, which is also very polluted?

The answer to this lies in seasonal variations across different regions, like in Lahore, where it is very cold in winters as compared to Karachi. Here,  the phenomenon of inversion plays an important role; inversion is actually the trapping of a cold layer of air below warm air, which prevents mixing of air and is very common in winters.

Geographical and topographical differences also have a say in this. Karachi is a coastal city in which winds keep flowing throughout the year, thus dispersing the pollutants, while the topography of Lahore and the surrounding region is quite plain, which causes reduced air flow, entrapping many pollutants inside and causing smog in winter.

The main cause of smog in Lahore is due to rapid urbanisation and deforestation. Industry, along with brick kilns, also contributes massively to air pollution due to the burning of fossil fuels and a lack of regulation.

Transportation also releases many pollutants, as many vehicles do not have any kind of exhaust filters or catalytic converters that convert harmful pollutants into less harmful forms or prevent their release into the environment. The burning of agriculture waste, especially at the start of winter to prepare for the next planting season, by farmers in Punjab (both Pakistan and India), is thought to be the main source of intense smog in the region.

Transboundary pollution is also playing its part in this entire scenario. The Indo-Gangetic Plain, which includes parts of northeast India and Lahore, and its surrounding plains have the same topological and meteorological conditions. So pollution from neighbouring countries is also a major factor. Huge smoke arising from northeast India due to the burning of crop waste at the start of November was also observed from space, as has been shown by satellite images.

Air pollution is known to cause eye infections, respiratory, and allergic disorders and adversely affect crop growth. It also has a prominent effect on cardiovascular diseases. Every year, smog results in slower traffic, and for days, motorways remain closed due to low visibility, which has a negative impact on the economy as well. Staying inside and wearing masks is recommended; schools are often closed to protect children.

Smog can be reduced by regulating the emission of pollutants into the air. The EPA and other concerned authorities should strictly regulate brick kilns and industries to use scrubbers to filter the noxious gases and other pollutants. To control pollution by transport, the use of catalytic converters is a must, and electric vehicles should be promoted.

Farmers should be educated to not burn agricultural waste but instead to use it for making compost. Control of urbanisation and green belts around cities is the need of the hour. In this regard, we should jointly work with the Indian government to completely tackle the problem of air pollution, as 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world are present in India and Pakistan.

We can also learn from China, as they have effectively reduced their air pollution by increasing the green belt around the cities and replacing the use of coal in industries with renewable sources. The same goes for the transportation industry.

In Beijing, they have an “alternate day rule for vehicles,” according to which vehicles with their licence plate numbers ending in odd go out on one day while others end with even numbers on the second day. This does not only sound interesting but is effective as well.

Awareness and collective actions are necessary to combat smog and make Lahore, the heart of Pakistan, along with all other polluted cities in Pakistan, a safer and healthier place to live.