Health Hazards

The ‘smart lockdown’ imposed by the Punjab government in response to escalating air pollution levels and a surge in conjunctivitis cases, particularly in Lahore and surrounding districts, appears to have had limited success. Despite measures to restrict vehicular and industrial emissions and ban activities contributing to smog formation, Lahore’s air quality remains unhealthy.

Lahore’s Air Quality Index (AQI) recently measured at an unhealthy level, primarily due to elevated levels of PM2.5, a fine particulate matter associated with severe health concerns. 

The Punjab government’s ‘smart lockdown’ on Nov 18 aimed to tackle the worsening air pollution and conjunctivitis cases by closing schools, colleges, universities, and offices while allowing essential services to operate from 3 pm.

However, the effectiveness of the measures is questionable as the smog situation persists despite the lockdown. The visible impact of the lockdown on reducing vehicular and industrial emissions appears limited, as evident from the considerable flow of traffic on roads and apparent non-compliance with lockdown measures. 

The situation, attributed to factors like low wind speed, high humidity, and local emissions, raises concerns about the effectiveness of such lockdowns in tackling complex environmental challenges. The persisting smog not only poses risks to visibility and traffic safety but also endangers public health, emphasising the need for more comprehensive, sustained efforts to address the root causes of air pollution.

Experts have identified a combination of factors contributing to the smog, including temperature inversion, trans-boundary pollution from India, and local emissions from vehicles, industries, brick kilns, and crop burning. The adverse effects of smog on residents, especially those with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, children, elderly, and pregnant women, include coughing, wheezing, chest pain, eye irritation, headache, nausea, and fatigue.

In light of these challenges, citizens are advised to take precautionary measures such as wearing masks, using air purifiers, avoiding outdoor activities during peak hours, and seeking medical attention if they experience any discomfort. The persistently unhealthy air quality underscores the need for a holistic and sustained approach to address environmental issues, going beyond short-term measures like smart lockdowns. Efforts should focus on reducing emissions from various sources, implementing stricter regulations, and raising awareness to protect the well-being of the population and mitigate the long-term impacts of air pollution.

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