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Pollution Knows No Borders: South Asia’s Silent Struggle


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In the heart of Pakistan’s cultural capital, Lahore, the air carries an acrid scent, marking a stark departure from the city’s once-renowned gardens. The relentless grip of toxic smog has not only sickened thousands but also become a national crisis, prompting desperate measures like artificial rain deployment.


As South Asia grapples with some of the world’s most polluted cities, experts call for cross-border cooperation to combat air pollution. However, political tensions between nations like Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh present formidable barriers to collaborative efforts.


Lahore’s Descent into Smog Chaos:

Lahore’s air quality has deteriorated significantly, with residents facing health risks and disruptions to daily life. The city finds itself in an airshed, a geographic area where pollutants from various sources get trapped due to local weather conditions. This phenomenon exacerbates pollution and, under specific wind patterns, contributes to cross-border pollution, impacting cities like New Delhi.


The Call for Regional Cooperation:

Despite shared challenges, strained political relations hinder collaborative efforts. Analysts emphasize the need for South Asian nations to address air pollution collectively, adopting a regional plan. While forums exist for discussions on air pollution, formal cooperation remains elusive, especially during election years like 2024 in India and Pakistan.


The Political Landscape’s Impact:

Political tensions between India and Pakistan, marked by historical conflicts and nuclear developments, impede meaningful collaboration. Analysts argue that addressing air pollution requires a regional approach, emphasizing that pollutants recognize no borders.


Election Year Dynamics:

With both Pakistan and India heading into election years, environmental issues like air pollution are not central to political discourse. However, the impact of climate change and public awareness could influence voters’ perspectives, as seen in regional elections where promises related to air pollution have surfaced.


The Urgent Need for Regional Airshed Management:

The World Bank advocates for a regional airshed management policy, urging countries to establish common air quality targets and measures. This approach involves regular meetings to share experiences and potentially setting common air quality standards. Currently, a significant percentage of the population in Pakistan and India faces severe pollution levels, contributing to numerous health issues and thousands of deaths annually.


Healthcare Professionals Speak Out:

Pulmonologists in Lahore express concern about the rising respiratory illnesses attributed to air pollution. Hospitals are witnessing a surge in patients, emphasizing the need for comprehensive, regional strategies. While institutions like the Evercare Group facilitate dialogue on pollution’s health impact, broader government involvement is deemed essential.


Models for Collaboration:

Experts suggest adopting collaboration models akin to the European Union, emphasizing policy formalization, data sharing, and best practice dissemination. India’s National Clean Air Programme highlights the importance of airshed management, acknowledging the need for a collective approach involving neighboring areas.


Local Efforts and Regional Opportunities:

Local efforts in Punjab, Pakistan, demonstrate progress in controlling emissions from industry, addressing crop stubble burning, and promoting electric vehicles. However, experts stress the slow pace of improvement and the necessity for broader cooperation.


Challenges and Opportunities:

While regional bodies like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation provide platforms for dialogue, formal cooperation at ministerial levels remains absent. Political will and sustained efforts are essential to overcome challenges, with air pollution continuing to plague millions across South Asia.


As political landscapes evolve and nations grapple with internal challenges, the silent crisis of cross-border air pollution demands urgent attention. The shared struggle against a common environmental foe necessitates transcending political hostilities for the collective well-being of South Asia.

Wasim Qadri
Wasim Qadri
Islamabad based Senior Journalist, TV Show Host, Media Trainer, can be follow on twitter @jaranwaliya

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