Karachi – Air pollution and its effects are on the rise around the world, leading to a sharp rise in infant mortality rates and the death of senior citizens, according to a report prepared by experts on human health and the University of British Columbia.  

According to a recent report, the rise in air pollution has led to a sharp rise in lung diseases, respiratory infections, cancer, diabetes, various heart diseases and neonatal mortality. The report estimates that more than 6.6 million people died in 2019 due to air pollution, accounting for 12% of all deaths.

Last year, scientists ranked air pollution as the fifth leading cause of premature death in the world, which has now become one of the four leading causes of premature death. The list also includes high blood pressure, smoking and poor nutrition as more causes of premature death than air pollution.

The report points out that women who are chronic victims of air pollution often have low birth weight or premature births. Such babies are at higher risk for various health issues, which is reflected in the fact that most of these babies die in the first month of life.

‘Developing countries most affected by poor air quality’

According to the State of Global Air 2020 report, developing countries around the world have the lowest clean air quality, which is also the highest number of deaths in these countries. Pollution rates are higher in countries where solid fuels are widely used for cooking and other household purposes. Most of these countries are in Asia and Africa.

In countries such as Central Africa, South Sudan, Burundi, Mali, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar and Rwanda, 97% of the population use solid fuel sources for cooking, which is a major cause of air pollution in those countries. However, in some countries, such as India and China, air pollution from these household items has decreased, and in those countries, their use has dropped significantly over the past decade. But half the world’s population is still using these resources without being affected.

Threats to the ozone layer

Climate change has been accelerated many times over due to cracks in the ozone layer on Earth, the report said. It is also affecting human health, food crops and vegetables. Various human activities such as vehicle exhaust fumes, emissions from power plants, industrial boilers and other sources emit nitrogen dioxide and other organic compounds that damage the ozone layer And over the last 100 years, damage to ozone layer have increased by 30 to 70 percent in various places.

Data from various sources show that all of the ten countries most affected by the ozone depletion last year are from Asia. In addition to some Middle Eastern countries, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Iran and Korea are also included.  The report says that the rate of ozone depletion in 2019 has increased compared to 2010. A similar situation exists in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Congo, and Brazil, where large sections of the population have been affected by ozone depletion.

What are the preparations of South Asian countries to deal with air pollution?

The report also highlights the steps taken by some countries in this regard. According to the report, India, the largest country in South Asia, launched a national clean air program in 2019. But it has been widely criticized for lack of a legal mandate and other reasons. In April 2020, India introduced new standards for vehicle exhaust emissions, the benefits of which are likely to be seen in the next few years, but the coronavirus epidemic has also delayed the implementation of the project.

The report says that Pakistan lacks a systematic national action plan to reduce air pollution, even though it is well defined in Pakistan’s air quality laws. However, on the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, some steps have been taken to curb air pollution from brick kilns, burning of agricultural waste and industrial emissions. But on the other hand, reliance on old technology for vehicle exhaust emissions and emissions from small, informal industries have not yet been regulated.

The report on Bangladesh states that after the Clean Air Bill was passed in 2019, a number of steps are being taken for clean air and sustainable environmental development, including brick kilns and reduction of pollution in the transport sector.  

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Positive but temporary effects on air quality from the Corona epidemic

The Coronavirus epidemic has seen a dramatic decline in major industrial activities around the world and locally, along with transportation, closure of educational institutions and business. The report says that due to these factors in the Corona epidemic, air quality has improved slightly in many countries.

Satellite and ground monitoring data show that a significant reduction in emissions of pollutant gases, including nitrogen dioxide, has led to a reduction in climatic factors, including temperature, and consequently an ozone depletion. There has been some improvement. But the report says evidence suggests that these changes will be temporary, and that once the restrictions on the Corona epidemic are lifted, the resurgence of pollution will rapidly reduce the gains made.

Thus, the Corona epidemic will be a temporary respite from air pollution. But the view of the blue sky due to the clear air once again assures us of what pollution has taken away from us.

What do environmentalists say on the report?

Rafi-ul-Haq, an environmentalist, has said that the main reason for vitamin D deficiency in women as these women are less exposed to the sun especially, when there is a shortage of open spaces in urban areas, everything is hidden in concrete. Similarly, with the disappearance of open public places, parks and grounds, these diseases are on the rise. According to him, man has adopted the habit to keep his body away from hard work, the use of split / air conditioners to avoid heat has increased, which on the one hand increased the emission of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and on the other hand spending more time has led to a rapid increase in bone and respiratory diseases.

According to Rafi-ul-Haq, tree planting is urgently needed to reduce air pollution. Haq said instead of being a wall in front of the natural system, we have to come closer to nature for our sake of our future generations.

On the other hand, Dr. Moazzam Ali Khan, Chairman, Department of Environment, University of Karachi, said that it was time to move towards alternative renewable energy sources. He said that we need to adopt the path of sustainable development and green technology so that pollution does not spread at all.

According to him, the problem of other developing countries, including Pakistan, is that they do not give priority to the environment which is now becoming an obstacle to development. According to him, the real issue is how to strike a balance between industrial development and environmental survival. Khan said now Pakistan and other developing countries will have to decide on the scale of development. Plans for industrial development, infrastructure, water and energy should be set up in such a way as to enable environmental survival and protection.  

Although the ruling PTI government in Pakistan claims that tackling climate change is one of its priorities, more than Rs800 million has been allocated for various projects for this purpose. Under Pakistan’s Electric Vehicle Policy, the country plans to run 30 per cent of its electric vehicles by 2030, and plans to build the world’s first metro line in Karachi, the country’s largest city.

Pakistan has plans to make better use of water resources by banning the use of hazardous plastic bags, while steps are being taken to make it possible to get 60% of energy from clean sources by 2030. The government’s plan to plant 10 billion trees in the country is also part of that plan. Experts say that the government of Pakistan has set up a separate ministry in the name of climate change, which is the first in the world, but still, climate change-related problems have yet to be resolved because policymakers and decision-makers are less aware of the real problems and its solutions.

The article first appeared in Voice of America Urdu and written by Muhammad Saqib.

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