Regret is stronger than gratitude?

There was a time when Lahore was known as the city of gardens. Now, it is choked with smoke. Air pollution has notoriously secured its place as the silent killer in the city of Lahore in the past couple of years and with the alarming prevailing condition of the city, it seems, it won’t be losing its deathly grip over us anytime soon.

The lack of responsibility and awareness on part of both the government and public has snatched the blessing of fresh, clean and pure air from the citizens. The latest reports this year, however, marking Lahore’s Air Quality Index (AQI) hazardous as well as the Twitter trends of #SaansLeneDo and #LahoreSmog, did make it hard for the authorities to turn a blind eye towards the pressing matter of climate change. The Punjab Government sprang into action to take emergency measures and decided to “escalate actions against crop burning and other factors that contribute to smog”. But the real question is: would that be enough? Is the indifference on part of the government officials the only thing to blame or does the problem run deeper than that? Recurrent researches and discussions over the years have given us enough proof that the only thing that can eradicate this problem is to make actual lifestyle changes and policies that will reinforce those changes for good.

The smoke coming from the burning of substandard fuel in vehicles, ill disposal of garbage in industrial as well as the agriculture sector and large scale loss of trees seem to be the major cause among all. All of this is not recent, however, the current escalation in the situation, as per experts, seems to be brought by shift in wind direction which subsequently increased the number of pollutants and smoke in the air. The hazy air provided low visibility causing accidents and injuring many. An increase in health problems including severe eye and nose irritation, throat-burning, nasal congestion and headaches might be the nature’s way of getting back at us! Experts believe that persistent exposure to these extreme conditions could result in severe health issues and this, in turn, could shorten life expectancy.

According to the Global Climate Risk Index, Pakistan has been marked as the 8th most affected country by climate change. The current smog situation in Lahore, if anything, is a testimony for it. Unfortunately, there is a major lack of political will as no one seems to be working towards a long term efficient solution. The smog first engulfed Lahore on a large scale approximately 3 years back, rendering Lahore to look like a dystopian wasteland. In 2018, a court-appointed Smog Commission made recommendations that were only partially implemented to date. This year, it came down to a group of students, in their teens, to take action by requesting the Lahore High Court to declare the smog policy and control action plan of government “null and void”. The government, as well as private sector, now seem to make small efforts here and there. However, these efforts would be meaningless if there is still no visible impact on the smog situation in the country.

 The greatest set back in this situation is that, even though we are among the top ten counties that over the risk of severe climate change, the proper research and accountability departments to monitor the air and environmental quality are scarce around the country. A temporary ban on the burning of crops and solid waste is not enough. The current situation requires large-scale awareness, acceptance, sacrifice, and attention at both economic and social levels. The public and the government needs to understand and accept the fact that climate change and air pollution have a direct link. The quality of air, with its grim resemblance to a toxic haze, is a clear indicator that we need to act now. The efforts and money that would be spent now to control and divert the change will be much less than the future.

A highly recommended path to reduce the situation is to implement strict policies and regulation, permanently, at every level.  We have to reduce air pollution by eradicating the sources for good. Obviously, all of this will require time, money, efforts and proper planning on both government and public levels. Officials with proper knowledge and understanding need to map out effective policies and we as citizens need to commit ourselves to those policies. The future of our coming generations is at stake now. The blame games, incompetence, and negligence will be our doom unless we implement an urgent policy shift all across the city. If we continue with the same callous attitude, the city of gardens will start to resemble a city of junkyards, a havoc, putting all life around in jeopardy. And then, we wouldn’t have anyone else to blame but ourselves.

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