What a beautiful weather we have, what a fresh air.
At least that is what it seems, listening to the Minister of the Environment of Punjab. “In all of Punjab, there has not been a single second of smog in the past two years,” Minister Bao Rizwan told a television station a few days ago.
Before smothering Lahoris could spit out a chimney to refute it, Mr. Rizwan provided a helpful explanation. âBasically smog is a mixture of fog and smoke,â he said. “If there has been no fog for the past two years, it is quite impossible for smog to exist here.”
We’ll leave it up to the environmentalists to figure that out – it might not be fog, and it might not be smog. Either way, the sky is gray, the air is dirty, and the city feels sick to it.
The air is dirty and the city feels bathed in disease.
That none of this is improving is also strange: Lahore has always been the preferred child of the ruling class, much to the disinterest of its cousins ââin other provinces. There’s also a long list of bad guys to chase after: dirty fuels, sloppy cars, brick kilns, crop burners, and tree cutters.
Instead, the minister took on the most powerful enemy of all: the whining citizens. “During the smog season, some unscrupulous elements with bad faith intent attempt to damage Pakistan’s image by reporting a misleading / false reading of the Air Quality Index,” said he complains to the FIA.
It is nevertheless a relief: by evoking the âsmog seasonâ, the Minister has moved somewhat away from his previous post; that this pot of flying gunk will be there for several months, rather than less than a second.
But as Lahore grows increasingly gray, Takht-i-Lahore has decided to close offices and schools every Monday. It’s a band-aid at best: Living up to its Halloween billing, smog arrives every October and doesn’t go away, obviously at least, until January. The province treats it as a seasonal public relations problem. This is not the case: the air is dirty all year round.
There have been some half-hearted attempts to blame India – who can forget Minister of State for Climate Change Zartaj Gul telling the Senate that smog is part of a “non-traditional war”? The fact that the data screams otherwise has gone unnoticed (Ms Gul previously attributed it to greedy air surveillance companies trying to sell us their wares).
There is also a story here: the tone deafness of the PTI government follows Shehbaz Sharif’s 10 years at the helm, longer than any other. For wider roads and signalless corridors, the great khadim felled the trees of Lahore with lightning speed. We can forgive him for never having heard of old town planner Lewis Mumford, paraphrased here from 1955: that widening roads to fight traffic is like loosening your belt to cure obesity.
But the climax is a bit harder to forgive: after turning all of Lahore into a concrete mixer, Mr Sharif shrugged and wrote to the Chief Minister of the Indian Punjab – the valiant Amarinder Singh – to propose a “cooperation agreement. regional âto fight smog. It is still not clear how thousands of trees would have reappeared if this new Maastricht Treaty had been signed.
Either way, it’s time – if only for the sake of Lahore’s 11 million pairs of burning eyes and blackened lungs – to address the issue. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the lion’s share of air pollutant emissions in the Punjab come from transportation (43 percent), followed by industry (25 percent) and agriculture (20 percent). This means that even though crop burning is a real bogeyman, it still comes third.
The list of measures to be taken to remedy this is endless: phase out the importation of low-quality high-sulfur diesel for its low-sulfur variant; slam Big Auto to follow suit with low-emission vehicles; shift petroleum refineries to the production of low sulfur fuels; end this country’s romance with hideous coal-fired power stations; regulate the industrial sector with green policies that go beyond PowerPoint presentations; move towards public transport; restore a semblance of tree cover; and in fact eliminate the burning of crops.
But these are generational changes, and they require a lot more blood and sweat than ordering long weekends in November.
There are also more than a few legislative headaches: keeping the lands green and clean was transferred to the provinces after the 18th Amendment; this is why the centre’s environment ministry has had a facelift and has become the climate change ministry. But it will take nothing less than a national effort, involving nearly every sector of government – and most notably the oil division at the center – to get us out of this mess.
Finally, a central issue that we haven’t had the courage to tackle – smog in the air, drought on the ground, violence in cities, and almost every other national ailment we can think of – is the population. .
As birth rates skyrocket and cars multiply, resources dwindle and land becomes scarce, the coming crisis will not be fixable. Now is the time to do something.
The writer is a lawyer.
Posted in Dawn, November 25, 2021