The seasonal smog crisis has been plaguing the northern half of Pakistan since the past eight years yet an end to the health hazard appears nowhere in sight, as a high rate of deforestation coupled with an excessive reliance on fuel burning motor vehicles continues to destroy the atmosphere, creating an uninhabitable province for the future generations.
Environmentalists like Dr. Hizbullah, a Professor at the University of Peshawar, bring attention towards the fact that the pollution levels observed in K-P are increasing with each passing day. “It is ironic to observe that even after the initiation of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, the reliance on motor vehicles is still high. Moreover, green fields are under the occupation of land mafias, which has exacerbated the degree of deforestation. All of this has significantly reduced the air quality in Peshawar,” said Dr Hizbullah, who went on to highlight that air pollution allowed a mixture of green gases like nitrogen and hydrocarbons to cover the atmosphere.
According to the Peshawar Clean Air Alliance (PCAA), Peshawar is the 5th most polluted city in the country and 58 per cent of the air pollution can be attributed to traffic. “The degree of air pollution in the city is such that breathing in the toxic air is akin to smoking three cigarettes per day,” claimed Shafeeq Gigyani, a member of the PCAA, who estimated that the life expectancy of 5 million people had been reduced by almost 2 years as a result of a constant exposure to smog.
Dr Adil Zareef, Assistant Professor of Public Health at the Northwest School of Medicine confirmed Gigyani’s concerns while shedding light on the dire health repercussions of breathing in toxic air. “Air pollution strikes all organs of the human body not just the lungs. Therefore, continuous exposure to smog cannot only lead to asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) but can also cause heart disease, stroke and even cancer,” warned Dr Zareef.
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Experts on climate change, like Dr Asif Khan strongly believe that forestalling an impending pollution crisis in the province, was contingent upon the monitoring of greenhouse gas levels.
“The overall greenhouse gas emission in KP from transport was 5.66 million tons of carbon dioxide alone. Furthermore, more than 50,000 rickshaws are illegally operating on Peshawar’s roads further polluting the air,” alerted Dr Khan, who advised the government to reduce the import duties levied against electronic and hybrid cars and introducing vehicular taxation in urban areas during peak hours.
Speaking to the Express Tribune on the matter, Shahab Khan, the Public Relations Officer for the Traffic Police said,” The Traffic Police along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has jointly conducted an operation against all those vehicles which are spreading smoke. So far, 90 smoke emitting vehicles were checked out, 40 were passed, 30 were fined, while the documents of 20 vehicles were confiscated and 24 others were issued a challan.”