Heavy smog in eastern Pakistan has caused widespread illness and led to a four-day shutdown of schools, markets, and parks. Public and private offices, along with various establishments such as restaurants, cinemas, gyms, and business centres have also closed, marking an environment and health emergency. The affected districts Lahore, Nankana Sahib, Sheikhupura, Kasur, Gujranwala, Hafizabad, and Narowal are now suffering from record-high Air Quality Index (AQI) levels.
A select few are exempt from lockdown restrictions, including judges, lawyers, court staff, healthcare professionals, law enforcement agencies, essential service providers and a few others. Only marriage halls, pharmacies, and bakeries will remain open.
On Thursday, air quality in Lahore reached a concentration 30 times higher than the World Health Organisation’s recommended maximum average daily exposure. According to the Lahore High Court, the situation is now a “smog emergency”.
"We have the dirtiest diesel and fuel in the world," Ahmad Rafay Alam, an environmental lawyer, told AFP, calling smog "a total failure of governance".
Interim Punjab Chief Minister Moshin Naqvi reported an increase in hospitalisations, especially among the elderly with breathing difficulties. Toxic particles, tiny enough to enter the bloodstream are causing symptoms such as eye irritation and respiratory discomfort.
The provincial health department attributes the rise in cases of conjunctivitis to bacterial or viral infections, smoke, dust or chemical exposure.
Doctors are advising people to wear masks and stay at home to avoid respiratory-related diseases, infections in eyes and skin diseases.
Experts say the burning of crop residue is to blame, which occurs at the start of the winter wheat-planting season in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, India. Colder air and low wind speeds this time of year also trap pollution. As the situation persists, residents have been advised to stay at home for their safety.
India’s capital, Delhi is also suffering from the same problem, with schools having to close until November 18. The two neighbouring cities have dealt with smog for decades, but an increase in industrialisation in south Asia has exacerbated the issue. The lightening of firecrackers during the upcoming Hindu festival Diwali also threatens to worsen the situation.
Despite repeated warnings by authorities in India, the practice of burning crop residue has persisted because it is a cheap and easy way for farmers to prepare the fields for the next growing season.
According to Naqvi, the government is now penalising farmers who burn crop residue and is monitoring the situation closely.
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