Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab, was on Monday declared the most polluted city in the world, leaving its traditional rival New Delhi far behind.
The official air quality index (AQI) of Lahore was reported at 289, as per the average between 9am and 5pm, while international monitoring bodies put it at 397.
Interestingly, New Delhi stood at less than half of Lahore’s pollution level, with 187.
Different areas of Lahore fared worse, with Kot Lakhpat industrial area crossing over 500; Fatehgarh that houses most of the steel melting industry, close to 400; and relatively green areas like Raiwind at 403 AQI.
“At 397 AQI, [or particulate matter (PM) 2.5], the pollution concentration is 34.8 times higher than the annual air quality value set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This is hazardous; and individual points ‘extremely hazardous’,” explains Abdul Rauf, representative of an organisation working on air quality of Lahore.
“What makes the matter dangerous is that it was not smog on Monday, it was pure pollution,” claims an official of the environment department.
Smog occurs when smoke mixes with fog. On Monday, the humidity level in the city was 60 per cent — and such a level does not form fog. Monday’s mist did not cause any eye irritation, which also proves it was not smog. This means that this haze was pure pollution.
“Secondly, and what is extremely worrying as well, is the fact that it is purely indigenous. The country is still experiencing westerly winds, which means the wind is flowing towards India and pollution from that side of the border has still not invaded Pakistan. Once the wind changes its direction and carries Indian pollution (mainly smoke emanating from stubble burning) into Pakistan, the situation here would certainly worsen,” the official says.
There is very little the department can do to control the situation, except for dealing with the “hot spots” of pollution, the official continued.
The industrial areas and their operations are under the microscope now. The department has already instructed its field force to concentrate on the industrial operations, especially during the night. Normally, the industry, especially in northern Lahore, uses substandard and highly polluting fuels during the night, he maintains.
The Meteorological Department forecast does not provide any relief either, as it predicts dry weather for the next 48 hours and does not see any rain (atmospheric cleanser) during the next few days.
On Monday, the wind speed, which normally carries away pollution, was only up to five knots, leaving pollutants suspended in the air of Lahore. A Met official said temperatures and mist would hold the same pattern for the next 24 hours.
Doctors advise people to wear masks while stepping out of their houses. Even homes need air purifiers now because the fine particles can invade lungs and even blood, let alone rooms. People with pre-existing conditions (like asthma) need to avoid going out and save themselves from this pollution as much as they can.