Battling the Smog, Fog and Haze in Lahore

Posted on January 28, 2007
Filed Under >S.A.J. Shirazi, Environment, Health & Disease, Science and Technology
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S.A.J. Shirazi

Winter in sprawling Lahore spells horror for thousands of residents. Not because of cold but due to the phenomenon of smog, sometimes also called fog or haze (although smog is the most appropriate term for what we have in Lahore.

Let your gaze roam over the cityscape while standing on top of the Minar-e-Pakistan and one finds how the skyline of the minarets and domes looks dark and sad against the clouds of thick smog.

Consider, for example, this from The News:

At least seven persons died and several others were injured in different accidents that occurred due to the poor visibility in the province of Punjab, which has remained in the grip of thick fogs since last two days. A speedy wagon on Muridke-Narowal Road at Gojranawal bumped into a tree due to hazy surroundings, resulting in the death of two persons and sixteen wounded. A recklessly driven trawler at Faisalabad rammed into a cycle-rickshaw, which resulted in one person killed and three injured, while one more person breathed his last in a separate incident in this city.

The third haze-prone accident occurred at Allahabad area of Qasur, where a car crashed into a roadside parked trawler, perishing the car riders Haji Mansha and Ghulam Mustafa instantaneously and wounding four others. A pilgrims’ bus on way to Sakhi Sultan turned turtle near Daska at Sialkot that killed one person and injured four. At least five persons were injured in Lahore in different such accidents.

The fog is triggered by temperature inversion – the formation of a static layer of cooler air close to the ground as the nighttime temperature drops. Normally, air closer to the ground is warmer than the air above it, and therefore rises. Inversions are frequent on winter nights after the ground has cooled down so much that it begins to chill the air closest to it often causing mist to form as water vapor precipitates on dust particles. Normally the morning sun swiftly breaks through the mist and heats the ground, which warms the air above it, breaking the inversion.

The term smog was first used in 1905 to describe the conditions of fog that had soot or smoke in it. In fact the word smog had been coined from a combination of two words fog and smoke. Smog is a mixture of various gases with water vapors and dust. It is also referred to hazy air that causes difficult breathing conditions. A large part of the gases that form smog is produced when fuels are burnt.

Lahore is one of the cities with large number of registered vehicles, and many more coming and going every day from out of the city. Due to the concentration of heavy traffic, emissions of smoke and sculpture dioxide and nitrogen oxides are much greater than they are in adjoining rural areas. Some industrial concerns in and around Lahore also emit heavy amount of haze causing pollutants (mostly fine particles) directly into the atmosphere. Thick clouds of smog form when heat and sunlight react with the gases and fine particles in the air. Metrological Science experts say that air pollution can span broad geographic areas and be transported great distances, sometimes hundreds or thousands of miles. Consequently, smog occurs regionally throughout the Punjab sometimes.

Environmentalists attribute the heavy smog in Lahore, increasing in intensity as well as length of the smoggy period every year, to the constantly growing number of polluting vehicles that jam the city’s roads. Many of the vehicles plying on the city roads are old vintage and have engines that guzzle petrol and diesel, and spew out poisonous fumes. Even heavy vehicle commute most city roads freely. But “the main threat is obviously cars. It is a case of can we improve air quality fast enough as in the absence of suitable city transport system more and more cars come onto the roads of Lahore,” says Metrological expert Khan Ghulam Abbas. He adds:

What Lahore is witnessing every winter since 1987 is the kind of killer smog that used to envelope cities like Los Angeles, London and Mexico City a few decades ago. While awareness about the dangers of pollution has resulted in improved emission standards in advanced countries, in Pakistan, we do not have clean environment concerns.

The calm puffs of air from plains does not help in blowing away much of the pollutants for winters and a large part of it remain hung a few hundred feet above the ground in the city. So, most mornings and evenings – especially in December and January – mist or fog turned smog defines the climate of the metropolitan. Smoke particles trapped in the fog give it a yellow black color and this smog often settles over city for days causing poor visibility — one of the most obvious indicators of pollution in the air. It often occurs as a result of smog that obscures the clarity, color, texture, and form of what people see. Result: The Lahore Airport remains close during long hours of smog disturbing schedule of national and international flights to and from Lahore. Motorway (M 2) has to be closed. Even railway schedule is affected.

In winters, this vibrant and living city gets enveloped in smog from early morning and those suffering from lung ailments like asthma and other diseases are the worst sufferers. On many mornings, it fails to dissipate till even 10 AM. Doctors advise people to remain indoors, instead of going out on jogging or exercising out in the open. The last few days have seen hospitals reporting a large inflow of patients, especially children, suffering from lung ailments.

Relatively little has been done to control any type of pollution or to promote environmental protections until now in Pakistan. Today, smoke and sulphur dioxide pollution in cities is much higher than in the past. May be some government puts up a legislation to control pollution emissions. Or we keep getting used to the worsening situation. It is one of the very valid fields of scientific activities and political priorities elsewhere.

SAJ Shirazi is based in Lahore blogs at various places including Light Within, where a version of this first appeared.

6 responses to “Battling the Smog, Fog and Haze in Lahore”

  1. hayaan says:

    its a informative website more things are still required to be added here about some more traffic incidentsshould be added and data should be updated

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