Three teenagers in Lahore have taken steps to raise awareness about the dangerous levels of toxic air they are breathing, by taking the Punjab government to court.
Filing a petition in the Lahore High Court on Tuesday, the students – 17-year-old Mishael Hyat, 13-year-old Leila Alam and 18-year-old Laiba Siddiqi – accused the government of underreporting the severity of air pollution and putting their lives at risk.
They were assisted by Alam’s father, Ahmad Rafay Alam, an environmental lawyer.
The petition demands that environmental regulators provide accurate information about air quality so the general public can take appropriate action to protect their health.
According to it, the Air Quality Index measurement system is not only at odds with the classification employed by the United States Environment Protection Agency (US EPA) but also the Punjab Environmental Quality Standards for Ambient Air.
Speaking to SAMAA Digital, Rafay said that children are at greater risk than adults by hazardous air, and the government is violating their health rights. He said the website of the government’s Environment Protection Department (EPD) shows an incorrect reading of the AQI, which are not updated regularly.
“It is our responsibility as adults to protect our children,” he added.
The three girls first met at Lahore’s Climate March, which was also organized by them.
“Leila’s father is a lawyer so we had the opportunity to get our voice heard,” Hyat said.
“The government needs to aware people about the correct measures to take to protect themselves from the smog,” she added.
Hyat also said the green surgical masks which the government has advised to wear are of no good. The teenager said the Punjab government has taken no initiative to distribute smog masks or inform the people of the severity of the matter.
The 17-year-old is a competitive swimmer on the WAPDA team and said her training regime was affected by the hazardous air. Alam, who is only 13, said she did not know when to wear a mask and when it was all right to go outside.
While Siddiqi, an 18-year-old student at LUMS, said her health and studies were affected by the air quality in Lahore.
Air pollution levels in Lahore were reported among the worst in the world recently and Amnesty International issued a statement that the hazardous air quality in Pakistan violates human rights.
At least 95 percent of all children in low and middle income countries were exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution, a World Health Organisation report on air quality and child health said.
In Lahore, a report prepared by the Children’s Hospital revealed a three-fold increase in admissions for chest or cardiovascular complaints in the past decade.
According to WHO, air pollution impacts every organ of the body and can result in brain deformity and stunting.