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From an aerial perspective, Lahore appears veiled in a thick layer of smoke, a phenomenon persistent throughout the year but more noticeable in winter due to lower temperatures.  When navigating Lahore’s skies, a constant companion is the dense layer of smoke that blankets the city. While this haze persists year-round, it becomes more pronounced in the winter months due to lower temperatures. The atmospheric conditions cause the smog to descend to ground level, creating a visible and palpable impact on the city’s residents.

Historical Perspective

Over the past decade, Pakistan’s air quality has witnessed alarming deterioration. 2018 marks the third consecutive year of smog, with minimal preventive or remedial actions taken by the government. This not only poses an environmental hazard but also constitutes a health crisis, exposing citizens outdoors without masks to various airborne diseases. It is crucial to start by reminding our public officeholders of the risks associated with neglecting the smog and climate change disaster.

In Dec 2021, the PDMA informed the court that the rise in consumption of grilled fish and BBQ during the winter season was identified as one of the factors contributing to pollution and smog. For those who may not be informed about the smog predicament in Lahore, the primary cause is not the vehicles on the roads or the litter in the streets (although these are significant issues needing attention). The major contributor is the extensive burning of rice crops, occurring on the other side of the border. This situation underscores the challenges faced by third-world countries, in living up to the expectations associated with their categorization.

Reality Check on Smog and Coal Power Projects in Sahiwal

The government’s attribution of the smog issue to conventional agricultural burning beyond its borders is met with skepticism, as a closer look reveals a more complex reality. While the government typically points fingers at traditional practices, the core issue lies in the coal power plants, particularly the one in Sahiwal, which is the result of experimental governance. For the establishment of the Sahiwal Coal Power Project, the government granted 1700 acres of prime agricultural land to companies, free of charge. This move allowed them to bring in machinery for their abandoned and dumped equipment, contributing to environmental degradation. The environmental cost is especially evident in Sahiwal, where the best agricultural lands were sacrificed for the plant, boasting a production capacity of 1320 megawatts.

However, the true impact of a 500-megawatt coal plant is staggering. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists in the United States, such a plant releases approximately 47,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually. To put it in perspective, this is equivalent to the destruction of 16.1 million healthy trees. Now, multiply this by the capacity of the Sahiwal Coal Power Project, and you have an annual emission of carbon dioxide equivalent to the massacre of around 45 million trees, contributing to hazardous air pollution in the region. As smog becomes an enduring reality in Sahiwal, the need for a balanced and sustainable approach to energy generation becomes even more pressing. It calls for a reevaluation of government priorities, a shift towards cleaner energy sources, and a concerted effort to protect both the environment and public health.

Impact on Health

The toxic smog affecting eastern Pakistan has prompted significant measures, including the closure of schools, markets, and parks. This move indicates the severity of the air quality crisis and the potential health hazards associated with prolonged exposure to such high levels of pollution. The decision to shut down these public spaces reflects an effort to protect the health and well-being of the population, especially vulnerable groups like children. Addressing the root causes of the smog, such as industrial emissions and vehicular pollution, will be crucial to mitigating the impact and preventing similar situations in the future.

The air quality index has soared to levels surpassing 500, well beyond the standard level of 200. The Environment Department notes that levels between 200 and 300 can result in eye irritation, further emphasizing the severe consequences of the persistently high smog levels in Lahore. Considering the atmospheric conditions in Lahore and Punjab at large, it’s not ordinary fog but rather a dense and toxic layer of pollutants known as smog. This poses a significant health threat, with visibility in open areas and on the motorway reduced to 20-25 meters. Such conditions contribute to severe respiratory issues and eye infections.

Read more: Why China’s air pollution is on the rise again

The unprecedented smog currently enveloping Lahore means that we are regularly inhaling approximately 10 times the recommended concentration of Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM 2.5). PM 2.5, which is about four times smaller than human hair, can easily penetrate deep into the lungs, leading to conditions such as bronchitis, lung cancer, and heart disease. Similar incidents in the past include the London Smog of 1952, which lasted just over a week but resulted in 12,000 deaths and 100,000 respiratory-related illnesses.

The persistent smog has tangible consequences for public health. Recent studies, such as the one conducted by the University of Chicago, indicate a significant decrease in life expectancy in Lahore, attributing it to the hazardous levels of air pollution. Particularly alarming is the comparison of smog’s impact to smoking 30 cigarettes daily, emphasizing the severity of the health risks involved, especially for children.

Long-Term Solutions

Amnesty International labels the smog crisis in South Asia as a breach of the human right to health. Who will address and rectify this issue? While immediate measures like air purifiers can offer relief on an individual level, addressing the root causes of air pollution requires a comprehensive approach. Transitioning to cleaner energy sources, stricter regulations on industrial emissions, and public awareness campaigns are essential components of a sustainable solution.

One valuable lesson Lahore can glean from smog is the significance of trees. While bridges, underpasses, and trains hold importance, they pale in comparison to the paramount importance of health. Interestingly enough, Air pollution costs China $1.9 billion in solar electricity each year. While on one side, there is a fervor for tree-planting initiatives led by ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan, on the other hand, the government’s support for coal projects presents a stark contrast. This duality raises questions about the coherence of environmental policies and the commitment to combat air pollution and global climate change. Billion Tree Tsunami if effective is a brilliant initiative. Implementing non-polluting fuel-based buses, such as those powered by Fuel Cells. Urgently completing projects like the Metro Bus and Orange Line, and incentivizing public transport use by imposing high parking fees for private cars. However, it is crucial to enhance public transport services to a level where citizens prefer using them.


Collaborative efforts between the government, industries, and the public are crucial to finding viable and sustainable solutions that balance economic development with environmental conservation. It’s a highly intricate issue. However, focusing solely on CO2 emissions doesn’t provide the affordable, reliable, and dependable base power necessary for our needs. Coal, nuclear, and hydropower form the foundation for future development, with coal being the most rapid and easily deployable option. Rather than criticizing a specific technology, let’s explore alternatives that meet the requirements of a developing nation.  

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