Air Quality in PakistanPoor air quality is a multifaceted issue that poses a threat to the long-term health of everyone who breathes the air. As of February 2023, the capital of Pakistan, Lahore, is measured to have some of the worst air quality in the world, with a daily air quality index of either “unhealthy” or “very unhealthy.” The air quality in Pakistan and poverty in the nation have a correlation. In 2019, an assessment of Pakistan’s health burden noted that air pollution and malnutrition stood as two of the major risk factors that drive deaths and disability in Pakistan.

Causes of Poor Air Quality in Pakistan

Many different factors contribute to a deadly mix leading to poor air quality in Pakistan. The two most significant contributors to poor air quality are vehicle emissions and industrial emissions.

In 2019, “43% of the total ambient air pollution” in Pakistan stemmed from vehicle emissions. According to Pakistan’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director General Farzana Altaf Shah, during times of break such as Ramazan and summer break, air pollution is not an issue. However, when schools reopen, pollution levels skyrocket once again.

This is the result of the poor maintenance of the vehicular fleets of these institutions. Shah stated that many of the buses use “non-compliant diesel fuel,” which contains high amounts of sulfur dioxide, a chemical that negatively impacts health. She also expressed to the media her frustration with government agencies like the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and the Islamabad Metropolitan Corporation (IMC) who also contribute to air pollution with the use of pollution-emitting fleets.

The industrial sector also significantly contributes to poor air quality in Pakistan. Pakistani industries produce many different products, including leather, fertilizer, petrochemicals, paper, cement and automobiles. All of these produce hazardous gases and dangerous smoke. Brick kilns use tires (a “dirty” source of fuel) as fuel.

Health Impact of Poor Air Quality

Air quality in Pakistan comes with many risks to the health of the people. According to the University of Chicago‘s Energy Policy Institute, Lahore residents lose about five years of life as a result of the toxic air they breathe regularly.

In every country, poorer people are most affected by air pollution as they are “priced out” of the better neighborhoods with plush greenery, fewer roads and overall better air quality. As of 2023, the World Bank expects poverty in Pakistan to reach 37.2% based on the poverty line of $3.65 per person per day.

Poor air quality takes a significant toll on the lungs and creates various breathing issues. In Pakistan, common lung conditions are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. A survey conducted in 2013 found that 6.9 million Pakistanis live with symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In Pakistan, one in 10 under-5 child deaths stems from air pollution. A study in 2019 by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution estimated that around 128,000 Pakistanis die every year from illnesses related to air pollution.

Pakistan’s Plan for Tackling Air Pollution

The Government of Punjab is the provincial government of the Pakistani province of Punjab, based in Lahore, the provincial capital. In May 2018, the World Bank granted Pakistan a $200 million soft loan over five years for the Punjab Green Development Program dedicated to green investments that would ultimately improve air quality.

“This project will strengthen the province’s environmental management [by] empowering its environmental protection agencies to provide better services. It will help modernize laws and regulations and promote investments in cleaner technologies to reduce air and water pollution,” the World Bank website says.

Looking Ahead

Efforts are underway to address the severe air pollution challenges in Lahore, Pakistan. For instance, the Punjab Green Development Program, supported by a $200 million soft loan from the World Bank, aims to empower environmental protection agencies and promote investments in cleaner technologies. By modernizing laws and regulations and implementing greener practices, Pakistan is taking important steps towards a healthier and more sustainable future for its citizens.

– David Keenan
Photo: Flickr