Karachi has been ranked as the world’s most polluted city on the Air Quality Index (AQI) for two consecutive days. This is an alarming trend that tells nothing but the utter vulnerability of the residents of the largest city in Pakistan. The AQI’s reading for Karachi was recorded 220 which is even beyond the unhealthy levels. A reading above 200 is considered harmful. Put simply, Karachi’s residents are breathing air that contains particles which can directly trigger certain respiratory illnesses and exacerbate already existing allergies.
This should be a cause of concern at different policy levels. As we approach the UN flagship Climate Conference, COP28, such a fallout of climate change that is affecting our environment and our metropolitan cities must be raised to the platform and collective solutions must be sought. Effective communication of the plethora of climate-related anomalies that have been imposed on Pakistan on behalf of other countries’ trespassing safe emission levels is our first step towards seeking justice.
But in addition to that, responsibility lies with the state as well. Certain policies such as those pertaining to overall urban planning and management must come from the district and provincial administrations. If a city is left to grow and expand haphazardly, it is only natural to expect more concrete and fewer CO2-inhaling plants and trees. We are responsible for how we plan our cities and what we send into the air through our lifestyle choices.
The crisis is urgent and so must be the response. The smog phenomenon in Lahore has become a regular yearly occurrence and now compromised air quality in Karachi is posing threats to the health and well-being of citizens. This is a subtle health emergency that will not heal on its own. It requires active policies and response; one aspect of which will be seeking global cooperation and the other, environment-friendly urban planning.