Smog covers Lahore

  • The government must do more than close schools

The Punjab government was panicked into closing schools on Thursday by increasing smog and predictions of worsening air quality. Rain in the early hours of Thursday prevented the worsening of the air quality, which had already reached levels designated ‘Highly Dangerous’. The smog did not just contain carcinogens which would have an effect several years from now, but chemicals which attacked the ears, noses and throats of citizens, causing what seemed an epidemic of coughs, runny eyes and colds, making it difficult for them to breathe.

The government reaction has not been any relief. The PM’s Climate Change Adviser, Malik Amin Aslam, has guarded a pregnant silence and seems bent on a policy of masterly inactivity, leaving it to the State Minister, Ms Zartaj Gul Wazir, to try and talk the crisis out of existence chiefly by making fatuous statements like vehicles part of the Azadi March convoy had caused the excessive pollution, or blaming the smog on India. That the federal minister for Science and Technology, Fawad Chaudhry, has endorsed Gul’s assertions is also cause for concern. While much has been made of Indian farmers burning stubble in their fields, not enough attention is paid to the emissions of pollutants by brick kilns burning coal or vehicles burning diesel, both as fuel here in Pakistan.

It is no cause of satisfaction that New Delhi is suffering the same problem. However, New Delhi’s woes illustrate that environmental problems pay no attention to lines drawn on a map, illustrating borders, and demand regional solutions. As such close neighbours, certain problems are bound to be common, especially purely physical ones. While Pakistan and India have serious differences, that should not preclude dealing with problems that affect each country. It is to be regretted that there have been no such attempts to engage India on this issue.