Breathing poison

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To our fortune, situation in Lahore seems under control as of now but the other side of the border tells the same dismal tale. The Air Quality Index (AQI) in Delhi is in the region of 300 now, which is considered ‘poor’.ome November and Delhi and Lahore once again find themselves at the mercy of smog.

The immediate reason for the AQI spike at this time of the year is the hectic burning of rice straws to clear the fields as soon as possible for the sowing of wheat. While satellite images suggest that straw burning has reduced, in the wake of a punitive ‘ban’ by the National Green Tribunal in December 2015, the practicof still continues at smaller level for compelling economic reasons. For one, the wheat crop needs to be ideally sown by mid-Novembe. Ergo, burning remains a fast and economical–costs nfarmers clearing solution to the farmers’ space woes.

However, our responsibility to our future generation is clear, we need to conserve the environment for a future to exist.

Meanwhile, Lahore and Faisalabad currently rank amongst the top three cities in the world in terms of dangerously high amounts of PM2.5. The numbers are at least 20 times more than what is considered safe – and these levels should be considered enough to shut down schools and halt all outdoor activity. The toxins contained in the particulate matter include sulphate and black carbon, which can penetrate deep into the lungs or our cardiovascular system. The risk is higher in poor and middle-income countries; 98 percent of all children are exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO guidelines. Half of the respiratory infections in young children in these countries come from outdoor air pollution. This could also be a trigger for childhood cancer. Similarly, toxic air has a deadly impact on pregnancy. The reason on both sides of the border is the same, there is a need to join hands.

Not only should we be aware of the toxic effects of air pollution, it is time for us to act now too. We know that the governmentswill not do enough on both sides to combat the smog in our cities. Although, last year letters were exchanged among chief ministers, but no real progress was made. Delhi suffers more from the catastrophe, as last year Sri Lankan cricket team refused to play due to the pollution, which led to an extremely embarrassing situation for India. On the other hand, Pakistan is also at high risk, we shouldn’t wait for a similar incident. Why are we continuing to pretend the Punjab smog is just a temporary issue? A war is waged, it’s humans against the eco-system. We are persistent, but nature is subtle in its strategy. Humans attack the natural habitat of forests, water bodies, wild life and nature retaliates with pollution, smog and global warming. We live at a critical moment of history. The future of human civilization is endangered by the threat of catastrophic conditions. We need to protect our environment to secure the possibility of a future. It is time to act.

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