Amnesty International urges Pakistan for 'urgent action' as smog chokes Lahore

Dunya News

The Air Quality Index (AQI) in Lahore reached 598 at 12 pm on 21 November.

LAHORE (Web Desk) - Amnesty International has issued an “urgent action” for the people of Lahore in a bid to mobilize its supporters around the world to campaign on behalf of the entire population due to the hazardous smog engulfing Pakistan’s second largest city.

According to Amnesty International, the “Urgent Action” raises concerns about how the poor air quality poses a risk to the health of every person in the Pakistani city of more than 10 million people.

“The government’s inadequate response to the smog in Lahore raises significant human rights concerns. The hazardous air is putting everyone’s right to health at risk,” said Rimmel Mohydin, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International.

“The issue is so serious that we are calling on our members around the world to write to the Pakistani authorities to tell them to stop downplaying the crisis and take urgent action to protect people’s health and lives.”

For one in every two days this month, the air quality here has been classified as “hazardous” by air quality monitors installed by the United States Consulate in Lahore and the Pakistan Air Quality Initiative.

The government shut schools down on at least three days this month.

Urgent Actions are a campaigning tool that Amnesty International has used for decades to mobilise support internationally for victims of human rights violations and for prisoners of conscience. Previous subjects of Urgent Actions have included former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, the last Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel, members of the Russian feminist punk group Pussy Riot, Guantanamo Bay prisoners, and Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman falsely accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death for it.

The air quality in Lahore has deteriorated to “hazardous” levels in November this year. Air quality measuring systems advise people to avoid all outdoor activity when that happens.

Air becomes unhealthy when the AQI level reaches 100. At 300 and above, the air is considered “hazardous”.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) in Lahore reached 598 at 12pm on 21 November. Since the beginning of the month, at least seven days have seen air quality reach hazardous levels.

Reports have shown how prolonged or heavy exposure to hazardous air can result in severe health issues including asthma, lung damage, bronchial infections, heart problems and shortened life expectancy – putting in danger people’s rights to life and to health.

The so-called “smog season” - which runs from October to February - is where poor fuel quality, uncontrolled emissions and crop burning worsens the quality of the already unhealthy air in Punjab.

Lahore has not had a single day of healthy air this year, according to the Pakistan Air Quality Initiative, a citizen-led effort that crowdsources and collates data on air quality.

According to a 2015 report published by the UK medical journal, Lancet, more than 310,000 people die each year in Pakistan because of poor air quality.

On 4 November, three teenage girls – Laiba Siddiqi, Leila Alam and Mishael Hayat– filed a suit against the government of Punjab for the “violation of their fundamental right to a clean and healthy environment.”

In the petition, the three students said the government had been downplaying the scale of crisis because its standards of measurement differ from what is used in other countries and accepted internationally. An AQI of 185, the petition adds, at the Meteorological Department station in Lahore is classified as “satisfactory” on the EPD website but counts as “Moderately Polluted” in China and India, and “Unhealthy” in Singapore, South Korea and the United States.

“Today, people are not aware of just how much danger they are in because of the air they breathe. If the expertise is available, if the consequences are dire, if the evidence of the damage is mounting, then the government must not waste time. A good starting point would be to acknowledge the risks of the quality of air and initiate smog protection protocol as recommended by the court-appointed Smog Commission,” said Rimmel Mohydin.