Air pollution growing dangerously
ISLAMABAD, May 31: Urban air pollution remained one of the most significant environmental problems facing cities with its level increasing by two to six times, said the Economic Survey 2012.
The Survey said that a substantial body of research demonstrated that high concentrations of suspended particulate matter adversely affected human health, prolonged a wide range of respiratory diseases and increased the probability of heart ailments.“When vehicular, industrial and pollution from power plants mixed with dust, the combination was deadly on human health,” said DG Pak-EPA Asif Shuja commenting on the findings of the Economic Survey.
Several studies of air, water and noise pollution had been carried out by the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA). In June 2011, Pak-EPA conducted a study to monitor the vehicular emissions in Islamabad. Vehicles were examined at 13 different locations of the capital.
A total of 576 diesel, petrol and CNG driven vehicles were tested in 13 days. Nearly 43.5 per cent of the total vehicles tested were found noncompliant of National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS).
The level of Particulate Matter, which was mainly due to the combustion source, was reported to have reached an alarming level of 2 to 6 times higher than the safe limit. The safe limit of SPM, according to the National Environmental Quality Standards was 25 micron/m3 annual average.
While Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) in Islamabad was 87/cubicmilimeter, Lahore had the highest SPM at 153.5/cubicmilimeter, Karachi had 52.9/cubicmilimeter, in Peshawar it was 74.5/cubicmiliter whereas in Quetta it was 63.9/cubicmiliter.
The DG, however, drew attention to an unusual phenomenon that was also confirmed by the Ministry of Natural Disaster Management was the blanket of dust over Pakistan including Islamabad in February and recently in April that dimmed the sun for couple of days. “Islamabad like everywhere else in the country was experiencing cross boundary pollution. The dust had risen from desert countries in the Middle East, Iraq particularly and traveled all the way to this region. This increased the average annual SPM drastically,” the DG explained.
Motorcycles and rickshaws, due to their two-stroke engines, were the most inefficient in burning fuel and contributed most to emissions. Two-stroke vehicles were responsible for emissions of fine inhale-able particles that settled in lungs and caused respiratory diseases. The dangerous 2-stroke vehicle industry was fast growing in Pakistan and had increased by 117 per cent in 2010-11 when compared with the year 2001-02.
The DG explained how the Ministry of Petroleum had failed to meet the January 2012 deadline to convince refineries to install desulphurization plants and bring sulphur content in diesel from 0.5 per cent to 0.05 per cent. According to Asif Shuja Parco that provided 40 per cent of diesel supply in the country had a desulphurization plant. “The country had no Motor Vehicular Examination system. All inspections were done manually and without proper instruments,” said the DG.
However, a senior official in the Ministry lamented that most of the projects under the Clear Air Programme were shelved or delayed after devolution.
“Donor funding suffered, most programmes approved by the Environment Council including banning plastic shopping bags countrywide have been put on hold and environment conservation has almost been shelved,” the official added requesting anonymity.The Survey said that after devolution of the Ministry of Environment in June, 2011 the Ministry of Disaster Management took over the responsibilities of the environment sector at the federal level. Due to limited resources at its disposal, government efforts alone were insufficient to address challenges from climate change. A much larger participation and support from stakeholders including industry, civil society, and the public at large and donors was needed to effectively respond to climate issues.