The Guardian

Pakistan shuts down offices and schools in Lahore on Mondays to cut toxic smog

- Shah Meer Baloch Lahore

Pakistan has ordered private offices and schools to remain closed on Mondays in Lahore in the hopes that a three-day weekend will help reduce toxic levels of smog in the country’s second-largest city.

The directive, issued by Punjab’s relief commission­er, Babar Hayat Tarar, aimed to act “as a preventive and speedy remedy” in the country’s second largest city during the winter smog season and will last until 15 January.

Lahore was temporaril­y declared the most polluted city in the world by an air quality monitor yesterday, as residents complain of shortness of breath, stinging eyes and nausea from thick, acrid pollution.

Last week, the Air Quality Index in the city of around 12 million was rated 348, above the hazardous level of 300, according to IQAir, the Swiss technology company that operates the AirVisual monitoring platform. Since then, Lahore was overtaken by Delhi, in India, which scored 422. The number is a calculatio­n based on the level of several pollutants in the air.

Pakistan has witnessed the worst air pollution in recent years from Karachi to Lahore, as a mixture of low-grade diesel fumes, smoke from seasonal crop burn off, and colder winter temperatur­es coalesce into stagnant clouds of smog.

As air pollution got worse and the city felt unliveable, the desperate residents filed petitions in the courts in Lahore against the government to take action against the smog, which is a mix of smoke and fog.

Abubaker Umer, a communicat­ion specialist and a resident in Lahore, said he had stopped going for morning walks and sent his elderly parents to another town as they were sensitive to air pollution. Umer says his skin allergy and throat irritation has gotten worse over a few weeks since the city has been engulfed in the smog.

“When you open the window or step outside you see no sky. Smog is everywhere,” he said.

“We are inhaling smog and toxic air pollution has become part of our lives.”

Dr Aamir Iqbal, a doctor who practices pulmonary in Lahore, has seen the symptoms of his patients getting worse. “The smog is making it very hard for the people to breathe and having issues in the throat, irritation in eyes and the weather is very dangerous for people who have lung issues and some other diseases. I have instructed some of my patients not to go out.”

On average, Pakistanis are estimated to lose two years of their life due to air pollution. But Lahore loses an average 5.3 years, according a report produced by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

Malik Amin Aslam, climate change adviser to the prime minister, Imran Khan, said the government was working on the recommenda­tions of the smog action committee. “We are doing everything possible,” he said.

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