Three years ago, Pakistanis had no way of knowing how bad their air was. On certain days, it looked (and even tasted bad), but without data, there was no way of quantifying the problem.
That changed in January 2017, when citizens started to set up an air quality monitoring network. Using ground-based non-government sensors, they started broadcasting real-time air quality data via the AirVisual and Pakistan Air Quality Initiative platforms.
This non-governmental network provided timely information about the air in four cities: the capital, Islamabad, and Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. And the high levels of pollution the data lay bare shocked many. For the first time, everyone was talking about air pollution. Armed with information, people started taking action to protect themselves.
Fast forward to 2019’s smog season – the worst time of the year in terms of air quality in Pakistan – and there is still no real-time Pakistani government data. In early 2019, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad as well as U.S. Consulates in Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar started publishing hourly PM2.5 readings, supplementing the non-government data.
Sindh air quality
A selection of the more than 100 places in Pakistan’s Sindh province, now available on the AirVisual air quality app
Yet Pakistanis in the rest of the country still lacked timely information to help them decide whether their children should wear a mask on their way to school or whether it was safe to exercise outside in the afternoon.
This information matters because Pakistan was the second most polluted country in the world in 2018, behind Bangladesh, according to IQAir AirVisual’s 2018 World Air Quality Report. During the past three weeks, Lahore air quality has regularly topped AirVisual’s live pollution ranking of major global cities.
While the number of non-governmental ground-based air monitoring stations is continuing to grow, they were limited to the four cities of Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar as of late 2019.
To fill some of these data gaps, IQAir AirVisual provides satellite modeled data for all cities in Pakistan, in the same way as it does for thousands of locations around the world that lack ground-based stations. Ground-based stations give the most accurate and reliable air quality data. However, if a particular city or town doesn’t have any stations and people request air quality information, IQAir AirVisual can use data modeling from satellite imagery and weather patterns to estimate air quality. In these cases, an estimated figure is indicated by an asterisk (*) next to the Air Quality Index number.
Quetta air quality data
Estimated real-time air quality information for Quetta, a city in Pakistan’s west near the border with Afghanistan
In the absence of more ground-based stations, these estimated data give extra information to Pakistanis looking to make properly informed decisions to protect their health.
AirVisual also adds major fires to its air quality map in real time. By using the map, people can see how smoke from fires, such as those set to clear land, can worsen air quality over large distances.