Students in Lahore took the government to court because they're fed up with the smog

Students in Lahore took the government to court because they're fed up with the smog

Laiba Siddiqi, Mishael Hyat and Leila Alam say their health, education and lives have been affected by the crisis.
Updated 06 Nov, 2019

The Lahore High Court (LHC) issued notices to the Punjab government, the Punjab Environment Protection Council (PEPC) and other departments on Tuesday on a writ petition by school and college students that challenged the Air Quality Index (AQI) measurement system adopted by the PEPC and applied by the Environment Protection Authority.

According to the petition, the AQI measurement system is not only at odds with the classification employed by the United States Environment Protection Agency (US-EPA) but also the Punjab Environmental Quality Standards (PEQS) for ambient air.

It under reports the severity of air pollution and therefore exposes the general public to unacceptable levels of dangerous air quality. For example, the US AQI reading of 194 recorded by the EPA, Punjab, by its monitor on Jail Road and placed on its website is classified as “satisfactory” by the EPA, Punjab, but has actually been declared “unhealthy” according to the US-EPA.

Petitioners are all school and college going students. Mishael Hyat, a professional swimmer, said her training regime had to be curtailed because of the noxious air. Leila Alam, another petitioner, complained she did not know when to wear a mask and when it was all right to go outside.

In March 2016, the PEPC approved the PEQS for ambient air in its first meeting held. In its second meeting held in October 2017 the PEPC approved the Smog Policy and Action Plan (Policy and Action Plan for Control, Mitigation, Advisory andProtective Measures in Extreme Weather Conditions of Dense Smog in the Punjab).

In November 2017, the court directed that that the Environment Protection Department (EPD) upload “daily readings of the air quality monitoring” on its website and that efforts be made to put up real time data at the earliest. The data was highlighted to be station wise – referring to the five monitoring stations the EPA, Punjab had admitted were operating at that time in Lahore.

However the EPD only uploads AQI readings of only a few of its monitoring stations, and this information is not real time, let alone regularly uploaded on a daily basis.

The indices approved by the PEPC, and which form the basis of the Smog Policy & Action Plan under-report the severity and status of AQI readings. This under-reporting puts children, senior citizens and pregnant women at special risk. The Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA) has begun broadcast air quality information on the LCD screens installed in Lahore.

The PSCA has employed AQI and the indices prescribed by the Smog Policy & Action Plan and not the PEQS for ambient air as the means to broadcast air quality information. As a result, the general public is being given incorrect information about the severity of air pollution, which is a violation of their fundamental right to a clean and healthy environment.

Dr Zulfiqar Mir gave information regarding the health problems. “There is no level of pm 2.5 which is considered ‘safe’, however, it should always be less than 10 micrograms. Ours in smog season has gone up to 800 even.” He said that for every 10 micrograms increase, the cardiopulmonary risk (heart attacks, high blood pressure, etc.) and stroke, increases by 16 percent. high levels of PM 2.5 is increasing the risk of an average person more than a hundred times.

“Even a baby developing in a womb is vulnerable to smog through its mother,” said Dr Mir. “There are issues of low birth weight, premature births, autism, etc. On the other hand, if we lessen smog levels then we can add up to five years of life.”

Air pollution, in general, also impacts every organ of the body, and can result in brain deformity and stunting. According to WHO, nearly 95 percent of all children in low and middle income countries were exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution.

A report by the Children’s Hospital Lahore has revealed that there has been a three-fold increase in admissions of patients with chest or cardiovascular complaints in the past decade.

Recently, air pollution levels in Lahore were reported as some of the worst in the world and Amnesty International issued a statement that the hazardous air quality in Pakistan actually violates human rights.

Originally published in Dawn, November 6th, 2019


Parvez Nov 06, 2019 02:31pm
Brilliant ...... more power to these brave children.
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Amjad Wyne Nov 06, 2019 07:49pm
They should now take the next step - Show the world what they are doing to reduce pollution and smog in Lahore....
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Armaghan Nov 06, 2019 08:20pm
Amazing more power to you guys! Still can’t believe there are people in this country who care about things other than food and religion
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St Mercury Nov 06, 2019 10:01pm
On my last visit to Pakistan, a land of ancestors, I noticed a lots smoke in the air and garbage laying around. People have no love and respect for their home land and the PEPC is not doing anything for the betterment of the people, the environment and the country. The head of that agency should be fired along with all his cronies.
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Moth Nov 06, 2019 10:05pm
From US my two thumbs up for these young students. This is your country and this is your responsibility to ensure that the environment you live in is healthy. Take the lead and make Pakistan a great country to live on the globe. Good luck and best wishes.
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Zack Abdi Nov 07, 2019 03:22am
Everyone is a stakeholder to ask for better health, better air quality, cleaner water, better sanitation services, and security for all. Time to act is now. PROACTIVE REACTIVE INACTIVE are clear options with clear consequences.
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CAT Nov 07, 2019 09:52am
BRAVO !!!!!
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