On 10th November 2021, a thick blanket of smog covered the city of Lahore. People walking through the streets felt their eyes burning due to the toxic air levels. Coughs, dry throats and tearing eyes were only some of the symptoms experienced by the population that didn’t have pre-existing conditions. Lahore, the cultural capital of urban Pakistan was recorded as the most polluted city in the world, when its air quality index (AQI) rose above 600, making it hazardous to breathe. The air quality data was published for the first time in Pakistan in 2017, bringing this issue to the forefront of public consciousness. A lack of government data led to a network of citizen operated sensors to start monitoring the air quality levels, shocking the citizens and the media. The ‘smog’ that engulfed the city was pure pollution, according to an official of the health department, making it extremely dangerous. In 2006, The Daily Times reported that, “In Lahore, 1,250 people die annually because of air pollution”. There is also an increase in air pollution borne diseases every year, making it a threat to the lives of the citizens. The number has increased exponentially since then. Below, we’ll look at some of the causes of pollution in the city and the role of urban interventions to reduce the levels of toxicity in the atmosphere. 

Urban pollution: Lahore, Pakistan - Sheet1
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What Causes Pollution in Lahore? 

The primary sources of air pollution are industrial and vehicular emissions. Specifically, motorized vehicles on roads release toxic emissions including carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and ozone that are detrimental to the atmosphere. 

Large scale deforestation and construction of buildings and roads are also major factors contributing to the quality of air in the city. The months of October to February also mark a defined ‘smog season’ during which the air pollution is at its worst. This is due to the burning of crop residue and the smoke from brick Kilns that drift towards the city at this time. Additionally, the temperature inversion during these months prevents the pollutants from rising, creating a layer of trapped air. 

Vehicular Emissions

Traffic congestion and fuel pollution are among the leading causes of pollution in Lahore city. The burning of these fossil fuels releases dangerous chemicals into the air, and particulate matter is released due to incomplete combustion. Extensive car ownership and usage consume more energy and release pollutants into the atmosphere. To improve the air quality in Lahore, there is an urgent need to shift to alternative fuels like CNG. There is also a greater need for traffic control management, emission control for three-wheelers and a shift to mass transit systems. A combination of short term and long term measures are to be introduced. Central bus lanes may be introduced to major lanes in Lahore. There is a need for real-time air quality data to be readily available. The current transport policy needs to be improved, and the regional transport authority has plans to adopt a route rationalising scheme. A separate bus lane may be introduced to encourage citizens to use public transport and this plan has already been experimented with. Vehicle registration and inspection should also be carried out. 

Industrial Emissions

Smoke billowing out from the various factories and mills in the country is another major cause of air pollution. The fuel used by the factories release gases that are intolerable, particularly to people with breathing difficulties. In this case, the need is to shift to cleaner sources of fuel and energy and find better ways to manage the waste generated from the factories. 

Burning of Crop Residue 

Harvesting of the rice crop in October and November is associated with open burning in this region. This, specifically causes air levels to drop down to “hazardous” during this time. The poor air quality at this time leads to several short term and long term effects including respiratory diseases. Though this practice has been banned, there is poor enforcement, which needs to be improved in the coming years. There also needs to be more incentive for farmers to shift to more environmentally friendly waste management practices.

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The Role of Urban Planners

Urban planning plays a vital role in improving the air quality in cities. But to understand its significance, we need to look at how we can integrate air quality into urban planning itself. This may involve banning heavy vehicles, promoting e-vehicles, and providing conditions for cyclists and pedestrians to be able to use the streets. Simultaneously, technological solutions like intelligent traffic regulation, improving flue gas cleaning at power plants and using electric buses also need to be employed. Amid the high density of the city, the introduction of calm, green areas like parks, courtyards, gardens and leisure areas will absorb some of the dust and pollution and create an efficient barrier to noise pollution as well. For architects, city planners and policy makers alike, it is important to work on holistic ways to improve the air and life quality of cities and make the health of citizens a focus. 

References:

1.https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/health-must-be-the-number-one-priority-for-urban-planners 

2.http://www.bioline.org.br/pdf?ja07035 

3.Butt, Muhammad & Abbas, Naeem & Deeba, Farah & Iqbal, Javed & Hussain, Naqi & Khan, Rauf. (2018). Study of Exhaust Emissions from Different Fuels based Vehicles in Lahore City of Pakistan. Asian Journal of Chemistry. 30. 2481-2485. 10.14233/ajchem.2018.21484. 

4.https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/lahore-most-polluted-city-in-world-us-air-quality-index-2607347 

Author

Zoeanna is an architecture student, currently pursuing her bachelor of architecture. In her free time, she can be found curled up in a corner with a cup of coffee and a good book. She loves travelling, sketching, doing yoga, daydreaming and exploring new ideas through writing.

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