Being a stricken nation, we have yet to cope with a multitude of chaotic disasters and challenges. Poverty, Breakdown in law and order, target killings, ethnic and political divides, widespread hunger, homelessness, unemployment, rising inflation, corruption, energy crisis and dengue have resulted in unrest in almost all sectors of society. Beside all these, various sorts of environmental pollutions have also put a question mark to our survival by acquiring their critical limits. On the other side, Environmental pollution abatement being one of the core areas of Pakistan National Conservation Strategy (NCS) have resulted in a complete debacle in ensuring the environmental protection and resources conservation because of first, the institutional failure on the part of government policies and practices and second, the incapability and poor control management of the enforcing bodies. This has led the common person to live in unhygienic and filthy circumstances even in this modern age.
An emerging issue of the environmental pollution is the degradation of ambient air quality particularly in the urban areas with each passing day. Air pollution is a critical threat to this generation and has put our lives at high risk. It is of public health concern on several scales. Indoor air pollution results from products used in construction materials, adequacy of general ventilation and geophysical factors that may result in exposure to naturally occurring radioactive materials. Industrial and mobile sources contribute to meso-scale air pollution that contaminates the ambient air that surrounds us outdoors. Macro-scale impacts include transport of ambient air pollutants over large distances and global impact like acid rain and ozone pollution. Global impacts of air pollution results from sources that may potentially change the upper atmosphere for example depletion of ozone layer and global warming.
Various surveys show that air pollution levels in almost all the cities of Pakistan have either crossed the safe limits or have just reached the threshold values particularly the level of air pollution in Pakistan’s two largest cities, Karachi and Lahore has estimated to be 20 times higher than the WHO standards and is continuing to rise. Islamabad, the capital is perpetually smothered by a thick cloud of smog that hides views of the Margalla hills that tower over the city’s tree-lined streets.
Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (EPA-Pak) with the assistance of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) carried out various surveys to investigate the ambient air quality in the major cities of Pakistan. All these surveys revealed the presence of excessive Suspended Particulate Matters (SPM) in the air and concluded that the concentration of SPM (both TSP and PM10) in all major cities of Pakistan is extremely high. In study of three cities namely Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the average SPM recorded was 6.4 times higher than WHO guidelines and 3.8 times higher than Japanese Standards. Presence of such a high level of SPM in the air is certainly a matter of concern due to its serious health implication for public. The levels of Sulphur dioxide, Oxides of Nitrogen and Carbon Monoxide were also found in excess of acceptable standards in some areas but the average levels were found below WHO guidelines. The major sources of SPM are vehicles, industry, burning of solid wastes, brick kilns and natural dust.
The second emerging air pollutant in Pakistan is Nitrogen Oxides. It causes eye, throat and lung irritation, and is gifted to the air through high temperature combustion mainly from motor vehicles. It is the primary air pollutant that produces photochemical smog, acid rain and destroys ozone at the stratosphere, thus reduce the ozone ultraviolet protective layer. Nitrogen Oxide is a precursor to acidic precipitation which may affect both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Pak-EPA took the lead and carried out thorough investigation of NO2 in all major cities (Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Islamabad and Quetta) to determine its present level so that the future strategy could be chased out to safeguard the public from its adverse effect. The highest concentration of NO2 was found in Karachi and then descending to Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar and Islamabad. It reflects the high density of traffic locations in all five cities by averaging the all NO2 values. Karachi and Lahore have shown the similar average concentration of NO2 i.e 76ìg/m3. The average concentration of NO2 in Quetta, Peshawar and Islamabad were 69.50, 47.28 and 30.41ìg/m3 respectively. The least minimum vale of NO2 in Islamabad was found in the residential area embassy road (11.65ìg/m3). The highest concentration of NO2 (399.65ìg/m3) was found at Karimabad Junction in Karachi.
Ozone is also a very critical air pollutant. It acts as a powerful respiratory irritant at the levels frequently found in most of the nation’s urban areas during summer months. Long term repeated exposure to high levels of ozone may lead to large reductions in lung function, inflammation of lung lining, and increased respiratory discomfort.
Like the other developing countries, industry has expanded in Pakistan also; factories have emitted more and more toxic effluents into the air. Also the number of vehicles has swelled massively with an overall increase of about 400% within last 20 years. Since 1980, the maximum growth has been seen in the 2-stroke vehicles i.e delivery vans followed by motor cycles and rickshaws which are the major cause of SPM because they use straight mineral oil instead of 2T oil as lubricant and use excessive quantity of lubricant (12%) instead of 2% for motor cycles and 3% for three wheelers, thus contributing 90% of the pollutants in Pakistan’s air. Authorities are looking at the possibility of using alternative fuels (CNG) for vehicles to reduce the air pollution. According to the latest statistics, Pakistan is the third largest CNG consumer in the world after Argentina and Italy but still we need to initiate various awareness programs so as to sensitize the commuters and introduce various programs to replace the still in use 2-stroke rickshaws with 4-stroke CNG rickshaws in order to reduce pressure on petroleum imports, to reduce carbon emission and improve the environment. Beside this, we all need to come forward and indulge ourselves in the environmental movement individually and collectively to improve the air quality in our country by planting more and more trees and covering open spaces with grass. “Be friend of the environment and motivate other people to care for the environment” owning this slogan would surely save us from this dire chaos.
(The writer is an undergraduate level student of Civil Engineering and Freelance Columnist)