As the temperature drops, pharmacies become crowded with people reaching out for face masks, educational institutions close to protect the brilliant minds of the coming generations, employees call in sick with runny noses and wheezing chests and the city of Lahore comes to a standstill. Smog has unfortunately become a staple in the early winter season of Lahore which was once renowned for its beauty and gardens.
Traditionally, fog added a touch of charm to the tough winter season for Lahori residents. However, recent Novembers have brought dread as thick clouds of smoke, mingling with fog, loom over Lahore. This hazardous combination poses a significant health risk, particularly for vulnerable groups such as children, the immunocompromised, and those with asthma.
In a concerning research finding, The University of Chicago revealed that the average age of Lahori residents is dropping by 7 years annually due to the impact of smog. With the Air Quality Index surpassing 500 in numerous locations, breathing in the present polluted air is equivalent to smoking 30 cigarettes daily. This alarming data underscores the urgent need for effective measures to address the smog crisis in Lahore.
How is smog formed?
Smog or more appropriately, photochemical smog forms when gaseous pollutants (volatile organic compounds like nitrogen oxide) participate in chemical reactions in the presence of sunlight. While there is a natural element to its formation, human activity is the primary cause of its aggravation.
Emissions from factories, power plants, and vehicles are a strong contributing factor to the high concentrations of pollutants in the air. In the regrettable scenario of Lahore, a major contributor to the issue is the burning of crop residue at the beginning of the wheat-planting season. When combined with decreasing temperatures, this practice leads to the entrapment of harmful fumes in the air, hindering their dispersion.
What are the health hazards?
Smog is a direct irritant to the eyes, increasing the risk of eye infections, like conjunctivitis. Inhaling the polluted air of Lahore is also likely to irritate the respiratory passages, leading to intense throat inflammation and runny noses. Prolonged exposure may also raise the risk of neurological, like disorientation and confusion, and cardiopulmonary disorders. Naturally, volatile organic compounds have been shown to have carcinogenic properties, thus the risk of cancer is also present.
Polluted air is the ultimate nightmare for asthmatics, since smog enhances the risk of severe asthma attacks which may prove life-threatening. As for children, it reduces immunity, leaving them vulnerable to infection.
A recent report from Punjab Healthcare highlights a staggering figure of 12,000 individuals hospitalized directly due to the impact of smog in this 2023 season. This is only an estimate of the real numbers affected which are projected to be much higher.
The Way Forward
Authorities are actively addressing the recent smog crisis in Lahore, implementing temporary closures of schools, markets, and parks this week. However, this approach has proven ineffective over the years, necessitating a more sustainable solution for the city of gardens.
To enhance air quality in the long term, stringent monitoring of farmers during the wheat-planting season is essential. Powerplants should be encouraged to responsibly use fossil fuels, particularly as winter sets in. Large-scale industries must adopt eco-friendly production methods, and the incorporation of Carbon Tax can serve as a deterrent, curbing healthcare costs associated with their activities.
Public awareness is crucial, educating Lahori citizens on how to protect themselves from this significant health hazard. By combining proactive measures and community engagement, a lasting improvement in Lahore’s air quality can be achieved.