Abid Omar, long-time Beijing resident who is originally from Pakistan, is making waves with his outdoor citizen network of AirVisual air monitors. He has good reason to reveal his home country’s air quality issues. Indeed, the data he compiled is having an explosive impact on his country's response to the air pollution problem.
Pakistan's one-man air pollution solution
As winter gets underway, so too begins another distinct time of year in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city – pollution season. The onset of the season is dramatic. There are often numerous reports of smog greatly reducing visibility, slowing daily activities, as well as increased road accidents and flight cancellations.
Data Abid compiled is having an explosive impact on his country's response to the air pollution problem.
Despite the obvious effects of the thick air pollution, Pakistan’s government has not released any real-time, official air quality monitoring data to openly quantify the level and hazard of the smog – until now. Lahore residents can thank a single, passionate clean air activist for pushing the national debate right up to government level, armed with his citizen network of AirVisual air monitors and irrefutable data.1
Air pollution awareness is the key
Upon returning to Pakistan from Beijing, Abid noticed that the primary difference in dealing with the air pollution problem in China and Pakistan was people’s level of awareness. According to Abid, without data, “People just think it’s foggy.”
Without data, “People just think it’s foggy.”
In Beijing, live air quality measurements are broadcast in elevators and on TV screens alongside weather information. “That’s what awareness looks like,” says Abid.
Pakistan Air Quality Initiative (PAQI)
Years ago, the U.S. Embassy launched a game-changing campaign of tweeting air quality measurements in the Chinese capital. Abid was inspired to do something similar in his home country. But first, he needed data. That’s when he decided to take his country’s lack of public air quality data into his own hands by setting up a network of six public outdoor AirVisual air quality monitors within the hearts of four major Pakistani cities: Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, and Islamabad.
That’s when he decided to take his country’s lack of public air quality data into his own hands.
The air quality monitors have been measuring and broadcasting the cities’ air quality readings since January 2017 on the AirVisual app and website. The air quality information is also publicly posted on Abid’s own dedicated community platform: the Pakistan Air Quality Initiative.2
AirVisual Pro data in the courtroom
In Lahore, Pakistan’s 2nd-largest city, Abid’s monitors have revealed startlingly high AQI (Air Quality Index) levels. Lahore has topped AirVisual’s hourly, global air pollution Major City Ranking numerous times, above notorious “smoggy cities” such as Beijing, New Delhi, and Dhaka, sparking considerable debate on social media, culminating in a public interest petition to be heard by the Chief Justice of Lahore’s High Court to review a government response.
In Lahore, Abid’s AirVisual Pro monitors have revealed startlingly high AQI levels.
Following requests for data by the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA or PEPA), Abid provided his AirVisual Pro monitoring network’s historical data to the hearing as supplementary evidence. Rafay Alam, an environmental lawyer based in Lahore, was appointed the hearing's amicus curiae and brought an AirVisual monitor with him into the courtroom.
Abid provided his AirVisual Pro monitoring network’s historical data to the hearing as supplementary evidence.
Alam produced his monitor for display early into the proceedings, bringing a shocking discovery to the courtroom: the Indoor Air Quality during the hearing measured 400+ μg/m3 (that equates to US AQI 434+, well over the highest “Hazardous” tier threshold). The Court then asked for a reading to be taken outside, which showed as close to 500μg/m3. Alam said that this “changed the nature of proceedings.”
Alam produced his monitor for display early into the proceedings, bringing a shocking discovery to the courtroom.
The hearing then consulted the government’s existing smog policy and found that any PM2.5 reading above 300μg/m3 is considered “Severe” – the highest category. PEPA was then asked to disclose their previously unpublished readings from a set of recently installed air monitors. The measurements were similar to the AirVisual monitor for the same time period as the hearing. With the severe level of air pollution indicated by the AirVisual data validated, the Court ordered the Government of Punjab to prepare and submit a smog response policy the very same day.
A court order has since been released, outlining a temporary Smog Health Emergency Action Plan to be put into place immediately, with a more detailed plan to follow within three months of the plan’s release. The order also demands that the government monitoring readings be published once-daily until real-time data is available to share.3
The order also demands that the government monitoring readings be published once-daily until real-time data is available to share.
Time will tell what the impact the new policies have on the local air quality.4 Meanwhile, Abid’s proactive commitment to raise awareness local air quality proves the incredible change a single, dedicated community member can create.