Punjab has been battling a toxic haze ever since November started. Air quality in the province, especially in Lahore, has been deteriorating day by day. Last week, the city's air quality ranked extremely poor on the index.
The smog, that has gripped the province, has left people choking. According to experts, pedestrians and motorcyclists are at the highest risk because they are constantly exposed to noxious air.
Doctors have revealed that around 100 smog infections are being reported in hospitals across Punjab on a daily basis every day. Hundreds of people have been diagnosed with flu, chest infection, and cough.
For people with asthma, it's worse.
Danish Azeem, 16, cycles to school every day. For the past few days, however, he has been unable to ride his bicycle. Danish was rushed to a hospital late Monday night. He was unable to breathe.
"I felt like someone was strangling me," he told SAMAA Digital. "My throat was dry and breathing felt as if it had been doing weights."
At the hospital, Danish was given a nebulizer. The doctors have advised him to avoid the outdoors. He has to wear a mask whenever he steps outside the house and carry an inhaler with him at all times.
A 2018 study reveals that children are more vulnerable to the detrimental affects of smog. It concludes that exposure to smog during the first year of life increases the risk of childhood asthma by 19.87%.
Dr Jai Prakash, a pulmonologist, says that while people with asthma are more exposed to smog, the bad air is toxic for every living organism. Not just humans, even plants and animals suffer because of these weather conditions, he said.
He detailed some precautionary measures that can be taken by people, especially those who spend a majority of their time outdoors.
- Wear masks, preferably two
- Wear sunglasses to prevent itchy eyes
- Wash as soon as you reach home
- Drink lots of water
- Keep a check on the AQI index and avoid areas where the air quality is poor
- Avoid exercising in smoggy conditions
- Avoid taking routes that are built up or congested
- If you have asthma, carry an inhaler
Government takes emergency measures
Punjab authorities started taking emergency measures last week. In Lahore, where smog is the worst, five anti-smog squads have been formed. People from the environmental department, the Water and Sanitation Agency, Metropolitan Corporation Lahore, industries, and police have been included on the squads.
Every squad will visit 60 industrial units a week and seal the ones using substandard fuel or generating smoke. They will check the status of the pollution monitoring devices and units burning solid or green waste will be penalized.
The commissioner of Lahore said that each squad will check 12 units per day and 60 units per week. He added that two teams were responsible for punishing smoke-emitting vehicles.
On Tuesday, experts at the University of Punjab discovered a new way to measure smog levels from the ground using censors.
The censors have been initially installed in Lahore’s Iqbal Town, Gulberg, and Raiwind. Authorities and people will be able to check smog levels on a website called Purple Air any time of the day.
Professor Zulfiqar Ali of the varsity’s Department of Environment said that researchers and government agencies can benefit from the new technology.
The government is also mulling over artificial rain in the city.
What is smog?
Smog is formed by a mixture of pollutants and water vapor in the atmosphere. It can cause health problems such as asthma, flu, coughing, allergies, bronchial infections, and heart problems.
According to the Environment Protection Department, the primary contributors to air pollution include running vehicles, industrial emissions, and the burning of crop stubble.
In September, the Punjab government decided to launch a four-year programme under Punjab’s Industries, Commerce, and Investment Department worth Rs200 million.
The main objective of this programme was to fund the conversion of brick kilns to environmentally friendly zigzag technology and fining industries that increase air pollution. But the reappearance of smog in the city shows the government has failed to curb it, despite its tall claims.