Air Clean Up

Is India to Blame for Pakistan's Pollution?

Nov 03 2017 Comments 0

The worsening air quality crisis in the southern and central regions of Pakistani Punjab has been blamed on pollution from India. According to an article in Dawn (the English-language Pakistani newspaper), a government official has named excessive emissions from Indian power plants and contamination from the illegal practice of stubble burning as the root cause of the problem.

A dearth of data

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to gain a comprehensive overview of air quality levels in Lahore (or elsewhere in Pakistan, for that matter) due to an absence of air quality meters which meet Environmental Quality Standards. Although the Punjabi Government has secured a number of meters from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), insider reports from onsite sources claim that they are not being used effectively, if at all.

With that in mind, the most reliable and recent data to hand comes from the 2014 World Bank report, which itself was based upon outdated information from past articles and studies. Even so, the report found that Lahore air pollution was between four and 14 times above the legal limits as recommended by the World Health Organisation. With this information as much as a decade old, the situation will only have deteriorated in the intervening years.

To compound matters, the recent widespread practice of stubble burning has only exacerbated the crisis. More stringent controls are required to prevent farmers from contributing to the problem and also bring thermal power plants into line, as well.

A lack of regulation and enforcement to blame

Unlike in Europe (where we have strict regulations such as the Industrial Emissions Directive [IED]), environmental legislation is not as far-reaching or as heavily policed in India and Pakistan. The former country in particular is responsible for emitting billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air every year, making them the third biggest contributory behind China and the USA.

In recent years, the practice of stubble burning (the deliberate setting alight of straw and other crop remnants after harvest to clear the way for the next year’s sowing) has become increasingly popular in both Pakistan and India. Despite a ban on stubble burning and more than 150 cases of illegal stubble burning recorded in the Mohali province alone, it still continues all over India and contributes masses of pollutants to the air.

Due to its proximity to Pakistan, stubble burners on the Indian side of the Punjab territory have now been blamed for high pollution levels over the border.

“An incursion of smoke”

The report in Dawn claimed that satellite technology had spotted 2,620 instances of crop burning in Indian Punjab in a mere 24 hours. By contrast, the Pakistani side of the region had only recorded 27 cases of stubble burning.

“Crop stubble burning is causing smog over a large area in India, and media reports there say it has failed to control the pollution-causing practice despite public outcry and censure by courts,” said the report. “It is not good in Lahore. Environment protection department officials said control over local pollution contributions thinned the lower layer of smog, though its upper layer thickened because of enhanced incursion of smoke and ash of the crop stubble being burnt on a large scale in adjoining Indian Punjab.”

Clearly, both stubble burning and lax industrial standards are causing huge problems not just for India, but for its neighbouring nations as well. In order to address the situation, a long-term change in attitude towards environmental issues will be needed in India and elsewhere in Asia, if pollution is to be curbed and the direst consequences of global warming to be avoided. 

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