Smog: Immediate remedial measure needed

Ch. Zulfiqar Ali Anjum

From the past few weeks, a new phenomenon has been in the news quite frequently. Even though I tried to overlook it for a few days, the term kept cropping up several times each day.
Either it’s an acquaintance complaining about the annoyance and trouble caused by smog or the engineer/ employee of my office presenting smog as an excuse for getting late. Quite often, my supplier or vendor has blamed smog for delayed deliveries. Many a times, my sales department officers could not commute to other cities as the routes were closed and public transport service was severed due to zero visibility owing to heavy smog.

It appeared as if smog had brought life to a grinding halt. Hence I resolved to investigate the appalling phenomenon of smog, putting everything else at the back burner.

According to dictionary, smog is a compound word made up of two words; Smoke and Fog. It therefore means a mixture of fog and smoke from vehicles, industries, etc. How is smog formed though?

The smoke and dust particles in the air get suspended because of a stagnant air column due to heavy, cold, air (fog). So the blanket of fog incorporated with dust/ smoke particles forms an irritating heaviness called smog. Moreover, the smoke particles undergo chemical reactions with sunlight, forming heavy gaseous pollutants that blanket the lower atmosphere, causing severe air pollution. Mixed with gaseous precipitation (fog) these particles form a visible white/ grey layer of smoke engulfing everything. Since smog is opaque (light cannot pass through it) it causes serious visibility issues.

Smog has been observed for the past several weeks, engulfing everything including the sun. At first people mistook it for fog but since the temperature scale showed little variation towards minor degrees, people became suspicious of the white cloud covering everything. Hence, it was discovered, that we too had our fare share of global pollution paid back to us in the form of smog.

Out of the many harmful effects of smog, reduced visibility was the most problematic as it caused roads to be blocked thereby, suspending public transport facilities.

Furthermore, it caused many respiratory health issues such as severe flu, cough and sore throat, etc. It also caused infections of the eyes, causing reddening and itching. Despite all efforts at prevention of such ailments, people found them to be unavoidable. Doctors and medical stores, however, benefited much from the problem due to increased number of patients.

The increasing intensity of smog caused everyone to be adversely affected due to it; bringing life to a standstill. The government kept informing the public that motorway and routes to various cities have been blocked due to zero visibility as a result of smog. Different organizations jumped in to take up the task of informing the public about this troublesome issue. They helped inform the people about the ways in which to avoid diseases caused by smog, along with distributing free masks. This fulfilled two purposes at once, recognition of the organizations among people and dissemination of information regarding smog.

Following them, the ‘selfie’ and photo mafia jumped into the scenario. Various seminars were conducted in this regard, and awareness walks were organized as well. Some Facebook ‘gurus’ went on to propose the recitation of religious enchantments and prayers to avert the calamity. In fact, numerous solutions were injected into the brains of people with regard to overcoming the harmful effects of smog. Every other person contributed somewhat to the solving of this predicament.

How then could the government institutions lag behind, who had a vast experience in campaigning against dengue fever, via awareness walks and seminars. Therefore, bringing into effect its previous dengue- campaign experience the state machinery came into action. It started advertisements featuring ways to combat smog such as advising people to stay indoors, and using masks when going out. This gave considerable business to mask retailers. Along with that the government kept advising to postpone trips to other cities.

To the utter dismay of people, Wapda disrupted the supply of electricity claiming that smog had caused the grid stations to trip and it would take several days to get them functional again.

In all this mayhem, the provincial education minister changed the schedule for educational institutes and offices from 8 a.m. in the morning to 9 a.m.

It is important to state that the whole ministry along with the ‘Environment Protection Department’ has been working, for a long time, to address this hazard. Billions of rupees from the national treasury are being spent in wages for thousands of employees working under the said department.

The question hence arises that isn’t the eradication of this environmental hazard the responsibility of the Environment Department? But who is to answer that. The department considered itself to be exempt of all responsibilities after a few announcements. It is a pity how non-serious we are as a nation and as a country in dealing with various issues, no matter how grave they might be. We have no effective mechanism to deal with sudden hazards such as flood, earthquake, storms, outbreak of epidemics and now smog.

Moreover, the government loses no opportunity at point-scoring to gain political mileage at every such outbreak of calamity, without the least regard towards public welfare.

On the other hand, let’s see how the civilized world dealt with the issue of smog. The state machinery came into action at once. Arrangements were made cause artificial rain and setup cleaning teams to clear the roads after the rain. Apologies were offered to the public on account of the inconvenience caused due to the hazard. If, in some countries, the officials were found to be inept, they resigned immediately. In short, the whole issue was taken up as an emergency, thereby helping its timely and adequate eradication. Along with that long-term measures were introduced for the permanent solution to the problem.

Unfortunately, here in Pakistan, the situation is quite bleak due corrupt politicians, inept institutions and lack of accountability at all institutional and governmental levels. In this country the public itself is responsible for its own well-being and safety, with the government offering little or no help in this regard.

Here in Multan, few rains, thanks to God, resolved the issue for the time-being, however, smog is a long-lasting environmental hazard and requires serious long-term efforts in its lasting eradication. It is very hazardous for lungs, respiratory tract and stomach. All over the developed world, it is being addressed very seriously and with a long-term approach so as to fully quench it in future. Preventive measures are being introduced to nip the problem in the bud.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance that both the government and the public join hands in sincere efforts to overcome this issue once and for all and take preventive steps to ensure a ‘Smog-free Pakistan’ in future. Along with awareness walks and seminars, serious legislation needs to be done at government level. These laws must be enforced in true letter and spirit at all costs. Following are a few suggestions as to how the government can legislate to help overcome the problem of smog.

1. Make catalytic convertors compulsory for every motor- vehicle be it a motorbike, car, bus or truck. Those who do not abide by this law must be penalized, and the license of their vehicles cancelled.
2. The vehicles should be checked for ‘fitness’ and those which do not fulfill the criteria must be banned from roads.
3. Instead of the polluting ‘Rickshaws’, two-stroke environment friendly ‘Auto- Rickshaws’ must be introduced. Economical and public-friendly schemes to replace the old ‘Rickshaws’ must be introduced by the government.
4. Burning of tires and waste must strictly be prohibited and the perpetrators seriously penalized in case of non- abidance.
5. The remains of crops must not be burned after the harvest is completed.
6. Factories and kilns must be ordered to manage their smoke emissions by using sophisticated filters in order to release filtered, less harmful smoke into the environment.
7. Artificial rains must be arranged in case of emergency.

It will be very elating if the government realizes its responsibilities on its own and works efficiently for the good of the country. However, it is very unreasonable to just blame the government for everything. The need here, for the people is to be responsible citizens and play their individual roles with complete honesty, integrity and sincerity.

About the author

Mian Bilal