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Urdu point Lahore

Published Date: Dec 4, 2018

India, Pakistan Inhaling Same Quality Of Polluted Air: Experts

Experts here at a dialogue on ‘Pakistan and India: Tackling Air Pollution Together’ Tuesday said the people of two neighbouring countries were breathing in the same quality of polluted air.

The discussion on deteriorating atmosphere and trans-boundary air pollution was organized as part of the 21st Sustainable Development Conference and Eleventh South Asia Economic Summit (SAES XI) by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).

SDPI environmentalist Maryam Shabbir, in her presentation, dilated on tans-boundary pollution reasons and solutions to mitigate smog risk.

Referring to the image taken by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on November 8 depicting hotspot areas involved in rice stubble burning, she said both Pakistan and India had different durations of crop residue burning. Pakistan conducted residue burning after India.

"The NASA image reveals maximum burning activities in Lahore after India whereas particulate matter levels in Lahore reached to hazardous level," she added.

She said according to Lancet Commission report on pollution and health, the poor quality perilous air caused 300,000 premature deaths per year whereas the residual burning in the overall Punjab occurred at 72 percent which was sufficient to realize the vulnerability of the region.

She emphasized the need to focus on alternate measures, ban on diesel generators and fireworks to cope with the issue of crop residual burning. The stubble burning could be replaced with the crop residue utilized as fodder for animals and bedding material in winter season, mushroom cultivation and paper production, besides using crop residue for generating thermal energy and biogas generation, she added.

Environmentalist from India, Ronak Sutaria, through his online presentation, said 92 percent of the world population was breathing in polluted air, which could be described as arcinogenic (a substance which causes cancer). "PM2.5 (particle) – the fine air pollutant is 125th the size of human hair and easily penetrates into human lungs resulting into lungs cancer and other respiratory complications," he added.

He said India had successfully developed her Central Air Quality Monitoring System, which resolved the issue of real time data for active situation of air quality in different cities of the country as atmospheric tendencies varied from city to city.

Sutaria stressed on the need to democratize environmental data and technology as cheap and accessible for reducing the environmental degradation risk and knowledge plus technology gaps. The hourly air quality data, he added, helped policy makers in framing proper policy whereas the regulatory monitors approved by the United States Environment Protection Agency (US-EPA) of worth US$ 20,000 were implemented in certain locations of Delhi which helped in surveillance of the air quality.

Founder Pakistan Air Quality Initiative (PAQI) Abid Omar said India was two years ahead from Pakistan as it started responding to the challenging degrading ambient standards. He said the PAQI had 22 monitoring stations in major cities of the country which had found that Lahore had 214 unhealthy to very unhealthy days, 40 hazardous days in 2018 similarly, while Islamabad enjoyed clear vibes of 24 good air days to 111 moderate days and Karachi also had same air quality like that of Islamabad.

He said smog was a public health emergency with a silver lining as the journey of China begun with the same environmental scenario, which had achieved 30 percent reduction in PM2.5 emissions in last five years.

The crop residual burning and brick kiln emission, he said, were just a component of smog in Pakistan. However, improvement in the imported fuel quality would have overnight impact over the situation.

He proposed for establishing emission control zones and collective endeavours with India for monitoring and taking action to control the smog situation.

Sidharat Singh, energy and climate policy expert from India and author of the book ‘The Great Smog of India’ , said there were no low hanging fruits to mitigate the looming smog risk. Around 100,000 people died in India every year due to air pollution. "The very fact has lead me to write the Great Smog of India as I discovered the true reasons behind smog generation and its impacts over the region in the last many decades," he added.

PML-N Member of the National Assembly (MNA) Romina Khurshid Alam, who is also member of Parliamentary Caucus on Climate Change, said farmers were least aware of the air pollution as they unwittingly contributed to it. It was high time to take stringent and inclusive steps to address the climate change issue, she added.

She said the role media was of utmost importance in the efforts to cope with the climate change and air pollution issue.