Amnesty censures Pakistan govt for exposing citizens to ‘hazardous air’

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LONDON: Amnesty International has censured Pakistan’s government for its failure to protect people from “exposure to hazardous air” in addition to “risking and violating human rights to life and health”.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the organisation noted that the Air Quality Index (AQI) in Lahore had reached 484 at 10:00am PST as of the same day. “The threshold for ‘hazardous’ level of air quality is 300 whereas people are advised to ‘avoid all physical activity outdoors’.”

Amnesty said the levels of air quality in Punjab have fluctuated between near unhealthy and very unhealthy most of the year. “During the smog season – from October to January – air quality crosses hazardous levels.”

The data was collated by Pakistan Air Quality Initiative (PAQI) from monitors installed by the United States Consulate in Lahore and are crowd-sourced.

“The high level of smog is neither a new problem nor one that came without warning. The government of Pakistan needs to do much more to adequately address such a severe public health crisis – one that endangers people’s health and even their lives,” said South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International Rimmel Mohydin.

Amnesty highlighted that “prolonged or heavy exposure to hazardous air can result in severe health issues including asthma, lung damage, bronchial infections and heart problems and shortened life expectancy – putting at risk people’s rights to life and to health, as well as the right to a healthy environment.”

“The so-called ‘smog season’ is where poor fuel quality, uncontrolled emissions, and crop burning worsens the quality of the already unhealthy air, from October to December,” said the press release.

“Air pollution and climate crisis are intricately linked. It exacerbates existing inequalities and paves the way for human rights violations. If authorities continue to stall making concerted efforts to address the smog crisis, it will continue to devastate human life,” Mohydin added.

Amnesty urged for a fundamental shift across Pakistan’s industrial, agricultural and transportation practices.

“There is something very wrong when the air becomes so toxic that you cannot breathe without hurting yourself. The government can no longer afford to waste time while people are choking to death,” Mohydin concluded.