|5||Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
|7||Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
Pakistan is a country located in south Asia, bordering on other highly prominent countriessuch as India, China, Iran and Afghanistan, all of which have sizeablepollution problems of their own. The economic giants that are India and Chinahave many of their cities taking the top spots for some of the most polluted inthe world, and Pakistan does not find much exception from this. Pakistan is anancient region that has seen many cultures and kingdoms come and go, but nowfinds itself as an Islamic republic, with a massive population of some 212.2million inhabitants, making it the 5th most populous country in the entire world.
In terms of its pollution levels, Pakistan has shown numbers that have come in very poorlyin the past, with many of its megacities creating vast amounts of smoke, hazeand deadly smog that permeates the air, causing a multitude of issues for itsinhabitants.
In 2019, Pakistan came in with a PM2.5 reading of 65.81 μg/m³, not only putting it intothe ‘unhealthy’ ratings category, which requires a reading of anywhere between55.5 to 150.4 μg/m³ to be classed as such, but also into the 2ndplace position out of most polluted countries in the world. PM2.5 refers toparticulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, roughly 3% thesize of an average human hair.
It has a slightly larger cousin known as PM10 (10 micrometers or less) which has anumber of ill effects on people’s health, but far less prominently than that ofPM2.5. Due to its incredibly small size, it has some very serious healthimplications on those who respire it, and as such it is used as a majorcomponent in the calculation of overall air quality ratings.
With yearly average readings of numbers such as 65.81 μg/m³, Pakistan has a long way to goin order to remove itself from the top spot of most polluted countriesworldwide, coming in with a reading that was nearly double that of China’s in2019 (39.12 μg/m³). Two of its major cities, Gujranwala and Faisalabad, bothcame in the top 5 most polluted cities spot, taking 3rd and 4thplace, with PM2.5 readings of 105.3 μg/m³ and 104.6 μg/m³ respectively, numbersthat place them into the higher end of the unhealthy bracket, making the airquality not only detrimental but outright severe for all members of the population.
With numbers such as these, a plethora of unwanted health issues would arise, many of whichwill be discussed in detail. So, as it stands, Pakistan is indeed a pollutedcountry, with some of the worst levels of pollution found in the world as of 2019.
There are numerous causes of pollution across the major cities of Pakistan, with some ofthem being more of a year-round constant, such as the pollution put out byvehicles and factories, and others being seasonal such as the stubble burningtaking place in the winter months, compounded by the cold air being trapped onground level unable to disperse. Cities such as Lahore, once known as the cityof gardens, suffers terribly from pollution caused by vehicles, and in the year2020 with the covid-19 induced lockdowns, it became apparent how much of aneffect this vehicular pollution has on the overall air quality. With masslockdowns in effect after March, pollution levels began to gradually clear, butas soon as they were lifted, the smog quickly crept back to permeate the atmosphereand affect the citizens.
This is just an example of how badly vehicles can alter the level of pollution, with a greatincrease in air quality during lockdown quickly returning to its awfulpre-lockdown levels, being indicative of how badly Pakistan is affected by itsnumerous cars, motorbikes, trucks and buses on the road. Many of them wouldalso be utilizing heavily outdated and unsafe engines, running on lower qualityfuel, which when compounded together the end result is pollution spewingmonsters that are unfortunately seen on many roads across Asia.
So, vehicles, in particular poor-quality ones running on fossil fuels are a large contributorto pollution. Other sources would include the infamous brick kilns seencountrywide, a phenomenon also seen in Bangladesh, with many large-scaleoperations as well as small family run businesses churning out bricks in the millions.
Other operations that emit large volumes of pollution would be the countries steelmills, which once again rely on fossil fuels such as coal to provide energy.The burning of fossil fuel leads to large amount of highly dangerouspollutants, which will be discussed in short. The emissions from thesefactories are often unregulated as well, leading to companies and manufacturingplants running their operations with no regards to the environment, which canhave catastrophic effects to not only air pollution, but also to thesurrounding wildlife and water areas, with large amounts of industrialeffluence making their way into bodies of water and damaging ecosystems,killing off vast swathes of vegetation and thus wreaking havoc on theenvironment.
Lastly, the open burning of fires on streets can add an additional level of toxicpollution, with a number of materials such as wood, garbage, synthetic andman-made materials such as plastic all being burnt and releasing a myriad oftheir own poisonous fumes. In closing, the main sources, starting with the mostprominent, are vehicular pollution and factory emissions, followed by openburning sources, and other miscellaneous additions to PM2.5 and PM10 levelssuch as poorly maintained construction sites, which can give off large amountsof finely ground rock, gravel and silica, adding to the levels of fineparticulate matter in the air.
With the majority of its smoke, haze and pollution coming from vehicles, naturally alarge amount of the gases, compounds and fine particulate matter would arisefrom the burning of fuels taking place inside car engines. Fine particulatematter such as black carbon is released in high quantities, its creation takingplace as a result of the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels or organicmatter. As such it can also be found coming from the burning of wood or coal,but most prominently from vehicle fumes.
Black carbon is a major component of soot, and can often be found coating areas that seehigh volumes of traffic, with motorways, underpasses and roadsides in busy citycenters having thick layers of black dust on them, full of black carbon that ishighly dangerous for a number of reasons. With its extremely small size, it canmake its way deep into lung tissues where it can cause scarring or a reductionin full lung function, as well as having carcinogenic properties, leading toincreased instances of cancer of the lungs, throat and stomach.
Before moving on to other pollutants, it is worth acknowledging the terrible effect thatblack carbon can have on the environment. It has the ability to absorb solarradiation and give it off directly as heat, causing cities to see largeincreases in temperature that can have knock on effects to both the climate aswell as human health and wellbeing.
Other materials found in the air in Pakistan would include nitrogen dioxide (N02)and sulfur dioxide (SO2), both of which are also released fromvehicles, with nitrogen dioxide being particularly prominent in areas of hightraffic. Other chemicals include volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) such asbenzene, labelled as ‘volatile’ due to their nature of becoming gases at verylow temperatures, thus having the added danger of being easier to respire once in the air.
Fumes from burnt plastics would include chemicals such as dioxins, furans, polycyclicaromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, as well as dangerous metalssuch as lead, mercury and cadmium. Others would include carbon monoxide (CO),stemming from the burning of wood as well as combustion units such as boilers,which is well known for being a very dangerous household contaminant, which ifnot ventilated thoroughly enough can lead to deaths occurring very quickly, dueto its odorless and colorless nature.
These are to name but a few of the main chemicals found in the air of highly polluted areas,with a vast array of ill health effects that come with them, a display of theterrible consequences that unchecked industry and pollution can have on theenvironment and human health.
Observing the data taken over the last few years, it appears that the levels of air pollutionin Pakistan have improved overall, with some exceptions such as Karachiactually showing worse numbers in more recent times than in years past. To givean example of the numbers, Karachi came in with a PM2.5 reading of 38.5 μg/m³in 2017, putting it into the unhealthy for sensitive groups bracket. In 2018 itcame in with a reading of 33.7 μg/m³, a marked improvement from the year prior.However, in 2019 the reading came in at 40.2 μg/m³, showing that the levels ofpollution had indeed gotten worse since 2017.
Looking at Pakistan as a whole, in 2018 the country came in with a PM2.5 reading of 74.27μg/m³. in 2019 its yearly average was 65.81 μg/m³, a considerable improvementhowever still not enough to take its world ranking down, coming in at 2ndmost polluted country in the world and still in the unhealthy group bracket.
Whilst the air quality levels are still indeed a massive danger to its population, thenumbers are showing their slight improvements, with cities such as Faisalabadshowing a large improvement from the years prior to 2019 (130.4 μg/m³ in 2018going to 104.6 μg/m³ in 2019), and with the city of Lahore making some of themost prominent improvements, going from 133.2 μg/m³ in 2017, to 114.9 μg/m³ in2018, and finally going down to 89.5 μg/m³ in 2019.
Whilst this is still very much a dangerous reading, it made an improvement of 43.7 μg/m³over the course of two years, a number that even on its own would be anelevated level of pollution for a city. So as mentioned, all cities apart fromKarachi made an improvement, but Pakistan still has a long way ahead of it ifit is to move itself out of its dire pollution situation.
Health issues that arise from breathing polluted air are numerous, with a correlation of elevatedpollution levels matching an increased rate of illness and disease, as well asmortality rate. Health issues would include ones such as all manner of respiratoryailments, with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) very likely todevelop, which contains within it a number of respiratory ailments such aspneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema and aggravated asthma attacks.
In regards to asthma, not only is the air in Pakistan verging on being lethal for sufferersof it, but it may outright cause it to occur in people with no prior signs ofasthma, with young children being the most vulnerable, as well as the sick andimmunocompromised also being at risk.
Other issues would include the ability of PM2.5 to penetrate deep into the lung tissue, astouched on briefly before. From here it can cause scarring to the lungs and areduced ability to take in oxygen, which in younger children could stunt growthand even cause cognitive defects, opening up the possibility for further healthissues down the line.
Another worrying aspect of PM2.5 is its ability to enter into the bloodstream via thealveoli in the lungs, the small air sacs that are responsible for allowingoxygen to enter the blood. PM2.5 can enter into these sacs, either accumulatingand causing damage or reduced lung capacity, or passing into the circulatorysystem via the blood barrier, where they can cause a number of equallydestructive issues such as ischemic heart disease, which arises when the heartdoes not receive enough blood to keep the tissues function at full capacity.
Other cardiac issues include increased risk of stroke, heart attacks, arrythmias, as well asdamage to the blood vessels and filtration organs such as the liver and kidneysdue to this dangerous particulate matter actually being in the blood. These arebut a few of the side effects of being exposed to high levels of pollution, andwith such information in mind, it should be of utmost importance for people tonot only keep themselves safe and reduce exposure, but to take steps towardsreducing their own pollutive output and taking part in initiatives to keeptheir countries air as clean as possible, lest their younger generation suffergreatly as a result.
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