Islamabad, 11 November 2019 (GNP):
Advisor to Prime Minister on Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam on Monday termed air pollution a silent killer and said that the economic cost of environmental degradation over the last decade has gone up from 6 per cent to 9 per cent, where air pollution contributes 50 per cent of the total cost.
He said this during a seminar titled “Combating air pollution for improved public health, agriculture and economy: Time to act now”, organized by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here at Islamabad.
Malik Amin Alam said that the major contributing factor to worsening air quality and causing smog issue in the country, especially in Lahore, is transport sector followed by crop burning and waste burning and emissions from brick kilns and steel furnaces. He said we also have cross boundary issue issues with India, especially related to crop burning, which require regional approach to address the issue. Releasing the need for authentic and reliable data to address the air pollution and smog issue, Malik Amin underlined the need for more air quality data monitoring stations around the country. “Under Punjab Green Development Programme (PGDP), with the help of World Bank, we are in the process of establishing around 30 air quality monitoring stations in Punjab, of which 10 will be establish in Lahore only”, he said adding this programme was also aimed at building the capacity of provincial Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These monitoring stations will provide more reliable data to take informed decision and data will also be available to public for awareness and preventive measures, he added.
Malik said that under the PGDP, we are also establishing a fund of 50 million dollar to help subsidize the industries to shift away from the pollutant technologies, which in turn will help reduce emissions. Vehicle inspection and certification system, under the same project, has already been set up and we are hoping to expand at national level to help cut the emissions in transport sector, he added. Malik said that Pakistan Electric Vehicle policy has already approved by the cabinet and the country has unique opportunity of transition towards e-mobility, as we are now in the implementation phase of the policy. This will help eventually in lowering the emissions in the country, he added.
Dr. Imran Khalid, Research Fellow and Head of the Environment and Climate Change Department, SDPI said that air pollution is a national problem and highlighted the need for utilizing atmospheric modeling techniques to understand the pathways through which air pollutants effect our communities. He urged the need to develop an understanding of regional “air-sheds” which can help devise solutions to counter trans-boundary air pollution. In terms of mitigation, Dr Imran cited the importance of enhancing fuel quality to make it compliant with best global practices. Given the nature of poor fuel quality and its impact on human health, Dr. Imran said that an improvement in fuel quality will go a long way in addressing our air pollution problems. He also highlighted the importance to ensure that Air Quality Indices of the country were based on similar indices developed by WHO or US-EPA. This, he said, would go a long way in ensuring a comprehensive response to the crisis.
Mr. Asif Shuja Khan, Former Director General, Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) said that we should have scientific approach to control the air pollution and through dedication and political will we can overcome the challenge. He said in the last 19 years, the overall population of the country has increased exponentially, where only Punjab population was increased by 36 million. Such rapid increase in population help triggered in use of vehicles by 268 per cent in last 15 years, where motorbike usage increased by 439 percent, public transport by 167 percent and private vehicle by 327 percent, he added. He said during these years, fuel consumption was also increased which causes the enhance emissions. “We have yet to count the much famed CPEC factor, when one trillion dollar trade through trucks will take place from China to Gwadar”, he lamented. Asif stressed the need for uniformity of policy in the country, which according to him was badly impacted by 18th constitutional amendment. Also, he urged the for enhancing the capacity and role of Environmental Protection Agencies (EPAs), revival of clean fuel programme and a comprehensive environmental assessment of CPEC project.
Dr Hina Aslam, Associate Research Fellow and Head of China Study Center (CSC), SDPI while moderating the session said that persistent exposure to air pollution can result in severe health issues, including asthma, lungs damage, bronchial infections and heart problems. This in turn can shorten life expectancy and put at risk people’s right to life and a healthy environment, she added.
Dr. Tayyab Razi Rathore, Disease Surveillance Coordinator, National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad said air pollution and smog has been declared public health emergency in many part of the world. He said one of the most dangerous impacts of air pollution on public health is congenital anomalies which show the urgency of the issue. He stressed the need for taking urgent preventive measures and raising awareness among public. He also urged the public to read the public health advisories which NIH produced and release frequently on such public health emergencies.
In question answer session, Dr. Mahmood A. Khwaja, Senior Advisor Chemicals and Stainable Industrial Development, SDPI suggested the need for legally binding agreement to control and reduce cross boundary air pollution. He also recommended subsidizing the expensive smog preventive masks for the common citizen to prevent them from air pollution and smog. Dr. Hafeez Memon, Director (MCH), Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), Islamabad also his thoughts on the subject. (GNP)