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The air quality in Lahore is at an all time low.

Tourists find the ancient sites clouded in haze, cars struggle to navigate the traffic with minimal visibility, asthma and lung patients desperately struggle to catch their breath, and Kn-95 masks are more in demand than ever before. If Lahore in its present state had to be defined in a nutshell, this would be it.

For the past few years, winters in Lahore have been a combination of freezing temperatures and intense, almost tangible smog. In the early hours of the morning, the smog is too thick for one to see across the road, and streetlights pierce through the blanket like rays of sunlight on a cloudy day. If the untrained lungs step out without a mask during this time specifically, they will be thrown into a fit of hacking coughs and watery eyes. The smog enveloping Lahore has been instilling a very unsettling, apocalyptic picture in the minds of its many residents.

The reason for Lahore’s poor Air Quality Index is a combination of vehicle and industrial emissions, smoke from brick kilns, burning of crops and waste, and fust from construction. Of course, the overall urgency of the global warming situation and increasingly evident climate change around the world is a major contributing factor as well.

The initial response from the government was, in one word, disappointing. The Minister of State for Climate Change, Zartaj Gul, attempted to politicize the increasingly toxic air quality by pinning the blame on India and what he called “unconventional warfare” in 2019. The blame was also deflected by government officials and placed squarely on Indian farmers burning crops, the effects of which were carried by the wind to Lahore. However, these claims were a result of lack of information and a lazy approach to the rapidly growing issue.

However, there is now growing pressure and unrest within the Lahori population with regards to immediate government action.

In worsening conditions this year, the government has taken some steps – but most agree that they are too insufficient to tackle the gravity of the situation. The government has ordered the closure of schools and offices on Monday, and a revival of the Covid-19 tradition of online classes and 50% capacities. It has also begun to fine vehicles which are emitting low-quality fumes and polluting the roads. These measures are part of an effort to reduce the toxic emissions from Lahore’s growing traffic. The government has also begun to crack down on industries which are emitting exorbitant amounts of smoke through an authority known as the “anti-smog squad”.

These measures just seem like another attempt by officials to deflect responsibility from poor planning and sustainable development on their part, to low-income individuals who cannot afford exorbitantly priced hybrid cars and expensive fuel. It also deflects attention to the factories emitting fuel but lacks substantial prohibitions in the form of laws passed to imposed greater restrictions and social responsibility on the conduct of such factories.

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