MULTIPLYING AUTOMOBILES INTENSIFYING AIR POLLUTION
FOZIA ISHAQUE (email@example.com)
Oct 01 - 07, 2007
With an estimated 35 percent of its population living in cities, Pakistan is the most urbanized country in South Asia. Its cities continue to grow, offering employment opportunities, amenities and facilities not found elsewhere in the country. This urbanization is accompanied by high income levels, affluence and increase in the number of privately owned vehicles. In recent year there has been a sharp rise in the number of light passenger cars registrations. This number has been soaring since 2001 and approaching a saturated situation in terms of inadequately supportive infrastructure, incomprehensive transport policies and other related aspects. The number of vehicles in Pakistan has jumped manifold during last many years. Amongst primary causes giving rise to boost in car production and sales, two are significantly noticeable. One is the convenient availability of credit from commercial banks for purchase of vehicles and second is increase in demand due to increase in affordability of cars.
Automobile sector has experienced a growth @ 8.1 % during the year 2006-07. There are three key players engaged in production of cars namely Pak Suzuki Motor company, Indus Motor Company and Honda Atlas Cars. Dewan Farooq Motors Limited also enjoys a reasonable chunk of market share. The production of all these units has quadrupled since last five years and is still on a rise. Pak Suzuki Motor Company produced 150,000 units during year 2006 whereas Honda Atlas Cars came up with 164,000 cars for the same period. In order to facilitate local industry and to further enhance production capacity of these units Economic Coordination Committee has recently approved new five year auto policy (2007-2012) which envisages production of upto 500,000 units per anum by the year 2012. Currently the gross Investment in automobile sector is Rs.98 B which is targeted to be at Rs. 225 B by the year 2012.
Increase in production and consumption of cars certainly illustrates a growth in economic activity. It denotes a symbol of tremendous development of hi tech industry in the country. However it is imperative to probe into the immediate effects and problems created by unrestrained proliferation of vehicles and the way to reciprocate positively.
The automotives being used by masses are primarily petrol and diesel operated. Fuel injected for running these cars is high in sulfur content. Its burning emits highly toxic gases and particles in the air which in turn degenerates the whole environment. Amongst these vehicles, those of serious concern are diesel vehicles using crude diesel oil and motorcycles. Commercial vehicles run without fitness certificate. Nearly 80% of pollutants are discharged by diesel buses and two stroke rickshaws. These vehicles change 7-8% fuel to carbon monoxide in one hour.
As a consequence, air quality in major cities of Pakistan is deteriorating rapidly. Levels of carbon dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, sulphur dioxide, hydrocarbons and suspended particulate matter (SPM) are also well in excess of internationally accepted limits. A substantial body of research demonstrates that high concentrations of suspended particulates adversely affect human health. The most hazardous are fine particulates of 10 microns in diameter (PM10) or smaller. Worldwide, fine particulates are implicated in 500,000 premature deaths and 415 million new cases of chronic bronchitis. In urban Pollution, as elsewhere, the major sources of fine particulate pollution are vehicles. The average Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) concentration in Pakistan exceeded 3.8 times from the Japanese standards (200 ug/m3 ) and 6.4 times from WHO guidelines (120 ug/m3 ) as reported by Pak-EPA in 2001 during the investigation of Air and Water Quality in the cities of Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. It attributes 22,000 deaths in the country every year to the presence of air particulates in the atmosphere that damage the respiratory system. The casualty figures have been disputed by the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency, but no one questions the fact that air pollution in all major cities is a serious health hazard.
The problem is aggravated by an aging fleet of vehicles in poor mechanical condition and low levels of fuel efficiency. Over the past decade the number of diesel trucks in major cities has increased dramatically, creating an additional source of pollution. Though many cities are adversely affected, air quality monitoring is restricted to the six major cities: Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta and Rawalpindi. Ambient concentrations of particulates in these cities is consistently above World Health Organization guidelines, and are on average two to four times the recommended levels. On the other hand, motorcycles and rickshaws, due to their two-stroke engines, are the most inefficient in burning fuel and thus, contribute most to emissions.
Airborne lead is also one of the most harmful particulate pollutants. Young children are especially vulnerable since lead poisoning causes learning disabilities, hearing loss and behavioral abnormalities. The original sources of lead can include leaded gasoline, industrial lead emissions to air, water, and land. Significant amounts of lead were added to gasoline (0.42 g/1 in regular gasoline and 0.84 g/1 in high octane gasoline), until, recognizing the gravity of the problem, the government intervened to ban lead from gasoline. In 200 1-2002 all major refineries announced that they would move to production of lead free gasoline.
In order to curtail air pollution it is critical to improve quality of fuel being used in these vehicles. Use of catalytic converters and lead free petrol in cars can reduce combustion of organic oils and emissions as lethal substances. Tighter fuel quality and emission controls should become a priority, coupled with a crackdown on noise-making and smoke-emitting vehicles. Updated Vehicle Emission Standards for new registration and in-service vehicles are required, linked to standards for fuel quality. In particular, the cost of moving to lower sulfur diesel and alternate fuels needs to be evaluated against the potential economic benefits in terms of lower emissions and better health.
In addition government is required to put in required efforts to promote calculated production of vehicles and discourage absorption of all vehicles in big cities. Increased credit circulation is contributing to mount in production of vehicles. Commercial banks need to be socially responsible while disbursement of credit and should take into consideration the quality of vehicles and equally focus on non urban areas.
Environment friendly transport policy is to be implemented so as to avert any potential hazard to the climate. Environment Protection Agencies should lay street to enforce the anti-pollution law stringently. Owners of vehicles that pollute air should be fined in accordance with the law and required to modify their vehicle's exhaust so that the level of emissions goes down.
The promotion of CNG as a cleaner alternative has been the government's response to vehicular pollution so as to improve ambient air quality. Pakistan's CNG fleet is the largest in Asia and the third largest in the world after Argentina and Brazil. At present, 1,450 CNG stations are operational throughout the country while another 1,000 are under construction. Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) has issued more than 5700 provisional licenses for the establishment of CNG Stations in the country. The sector has already engrossed the investment of Rs. 60 billion and more is being anticipated. The tremendous growth in this sector has led to job creation and till date approximately 60,000 new jobs have been created. Major cities are phasing out diesel vehicles in favour of CNG buses for intra city transportation. All new buses, mini buses and wagons will be dedicated CNG ñ or dual fuel vehicles. Provincial governments are also taking overloading, faulty injection nozzles and weak engines, diesel vehicles emit excessive graphitic carbon (visible smoke) initiatives to promote CNG conversions.
It is vital to unfold the pros and cons of the issue and create awareness amongst masses so as to exert collective efforts for betterment of environment and improvement of society at large.