Air pollution levels in Pakistan high

Pakistan's air pollution levels on the rise

Published: Monday 31 July 2006

air pollution levels in Pakistan's highly populated cities are among the highest in the world. And the levels are on the rise, raising health concerns, says a Pakistan government report.

The levels of ambient particulates, smoke particulates and dust, which cause respiratory diseases, are twice the world's average and more than five times as high as that in industrialised and Latin American countries, says the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2005-2006, released in June.

The survey found that pollution levels in Pakistan's cities had either crossed safe limits or reached the threshold value, with the presence of suspended particulate matter (spm) in the ambient air being very high. The report says the major sources of spm in the country are vehicles, industry, burning of solid waste, brick kilns and natural dust. Growing energy demand, increasing industrial and domestic demand and a fast growing transport sector contribute to the pollution.

In cities, widespread use of low quality fuel, combined with a dramatic expansion in the number of vehicles on roads, is a major contributor. The number of vehicles has jumped from 0.8 million to about 4.0 million in 20 years -- an overall increase of over 400 per cent, the report says. Since 1980, a maximum growth has been seen in two-stroke vehicles and a 200 to 300 per cent increase in diesel trucks and buses.

Suspended particles were primary pollutants with ground level ozone being a secondary pollutant, says Mohammad Aqib, coordinator of Pakistan Clean Air Network. Karachi alone has 35,000 registered and 25,000 unregistered two-stroke rickshaws plying on the roads. An estimated 500,000 rickshaws ply all over the country. These rickshaws cause heavy pollution and should be replaced with compressed natural gas, suggests Aqib.

Aqib stresses the urgency to set up an air quality monitoring system. According to international standards, an air quality monitoring system is required for a population of one million. With a population of 15 million, Karachi requires at least 15 fixed air quality-monitoring systems. At present, there are two pollution monitoring vehicles equipped with labs in Karachi but they are seldom put to use.

"We are lagging behind in air quality management as we don't have ambient air quality standards in place. We don't have our own standards, only guidelines of the us Environmental Protection Agency and the who to compare with," says Aqib. He feels the us standards did not work for them as they had different meteorological and atmospheric conditions.

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