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Smog forcing me to put my children’s lives in danger

November 15, 2019
Smog forcing me to put my children’s lives in danger

I’m sending my kids to school this morning with a heavy heart because I am putting their health in danger—this is something every parent in Lahore thinks when they see their children walking into school and it’s all thanks to smog.

I, myself, am a father of three and think this every day. What’s more important, my child’s education or their health? Should I send my children to school or keep them at home? Will they even be safe from the smog at home? Probably not.

My 11-year-old son, Abbas Zaidi, is a brilliant student of class seven. He regularly went to a club to play football and like a true Lahori, detests summer and waits for winter all year long. As October approached and the weather cooled down, Abbas’ job grew. But in mid-October he came down with a flu, cough and fever. The doctor prescribed anti-allergy medicines and antibiotics, which improved his condition for a few days but didn’t solve the problem completely.

Related: Smog alert: Lahore schools to remain closed for two days

A month has passed and he still feels dizzy, coughs all day and complains of the occasional headache. The doctors say his illness is caused by the smog and its effects are not limited to Abbas.

Children and adults are both exposed to the dangers of the smog hovering over Punjab’s capital. Thanks to the media and internet, we are well aware of the risks air pollution and smog pose to human beings, especially our younger ones.

As our children grow, they consume more air per unit of bodyweight than adults and impure air can impact the development of their major organs. Right now, a lot of parents in Lahore are anxious about the level of air pollution and are unable to determine whether it is healthy or even safe for normal activities. The Punjab government took matters out of our hands when it banned all outdoor activities at schools till December 20. But is this ban enough to protect our children?

Related: Lahore smog continues, but govt refuses to clear the air

 To assess the air quality level, the Environment Protection Department (EPD) has set up meters at three different locations in Lahore. People have also set up their own meters to record air quality in real time. The figures of these meters are available and updated daily and hourly on the internet. But the strange thing is that the official meters and private ones have different readings. They even have different advisories.

For example, an 185 reading on the official meter is classified as ‘satisfactory’ but on international meters, 185 is ‘unhealthy’. These conflicting interpretations have left residents of Lahore even more confused.

Children have even approached the Lahore High Court over the issue. The court has directed the advocate general of Punjab to seek instructions from the Punjab government and submit a reply. According to the petitioner, Laila, she noticed the impact of smog on her class fellows therefore she filed the petition. Their lawyer and her father, Rafay Alam, claims that the under reporting of the severity and status of Air Quality index readings in Lahore has put children, senior citizens and pregnant women at risk.

Where it all started

We first saw smog in Punjab in 2017. Most Lahoris didn’t know what it was, let alone how bad it was for them.

Winds were blowing from the east to west, therefore the impact of the burning of the rice crop on the Indian side of the border resulted in smog in Lahore and some other cities in Punjab. In 2018, the situation was about the same.

Related: Why should we worry about the smog in Lahore?

This year, smog levels in Lahore have reached extremely dangerous levels. On November 6, when the direction of the winds changed for a few hours and the impact of crop burning on Indian side was felt in Lahore, the AQI crossed into hazardous territory. The Punjab government announced that schools would be closed the next day.

On November 7, due to rain, the smog receded slightly and winds coming from west-north to south-east marginally improved the air quality. But after a few days, the smog returned, even though the winds were blowing from west to east. Environmentalists blame this spate of smog on dust, vehicular emissions, smoke and fog. On international smog indexes, the Indian capital of New Delhi claims the top spot during October-November and Lahore is a constant second. But India is trying to tackle the situation and devise a policy to be implemented when AQI levels hit dangerous levels. Pakistan doesn’t seem to be doing much other than closing schools and some brick kilns in Lahore.

The people of Lahore want the state to take responsibility for this situation and actually do something.

Many have been voicing their concern and rightful anger on social media. “Sending my kids to school this morning with a heavy heart because I know I am putting their health in danger,” wrote another user. “[This] reminds me of the year 2004 when the APS school massacre occurred and I was not sure whether I should send my kids to school or not. But this form of terrorism I see, I smell, it’s killing all of us in Lahore.”

One user, Yaseen Ali, tweeted that he moved to Pakistan two years ago and was perfectly healthy. He is not a smoker but due to the air pollution, he has now developed lung cancer. He says this air is literally killing us and I agree with him.

I was born in Lahore and grew up here, but this smog is slowly poisoning us. We need to wake up and raise our voices if nothing else to protect our children and bring back the Lahore we love.

Shahid Hussain is a reporter covering courts for SAMAA TV in Lahore.  He tweets @journalistlhr

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