July 11 - 17, 2011

Air Quality data recorded by continuous monitoring station in five capital cities of the country i.e. Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta confirmed presence of high concentration of suspended particulate matter.

Studies of air, water and noise carried out by Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak- EPA) show the level of PM (particulate matter size below 2.5 micron), which is mainly due to combustion source, has reached to an alarming point (2 - 4.7 times higher than the safe limit). National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) for PM 2.5 is 25 microns/m3 annual average.

Figure below shows annual mean value of PM 2.5 in five capital cities:

Islamabad 91.13 ug/m3, Lahore 116.51 ug/m3, Karachi 41.49 ug/m3, Peshawar 70.86 ug/m3 and Quetta 40.86 ug/m3, according to Environment Protection Agency (EPA).

The level of other pollutants in the ambient air like Carbon monoxide (CO), Sulphur dioxide (SO2), Ozone (03) and Hydrocarbons (HC) are within safe limit, according to National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) for ambient air.

Sometimes, the concentration of three gases goes higher than the safe limit at different places, but this happens for short time and gives short time exposure to public.

Formation of secondary pollutants like sulphates and environment 209 photochemical smog is a very common phenomenon.

The main causes of air pollution also include a sharp increase in number of vehicles (inefficient and outdated automotives technology, dirty fuels, absence of public transport), and uncontrolled emission of industrial units, burning of garbage and presence of loose dust because of dry climate.

Environmental standards are just not enforced in the auto industry. Motorcycles and rickshaws due to their two stroke (2-strokes) engines are the most inefficient in burning fuel and contribute most to emissions.

Two-stroke vehicles emit inhalable particles that are settled in lungs and cause respiratory diseases. The 2-stroke vehicles industry is performing fast in Pakistan and grew 142.6 percent in 2010-11 as compared to the year 2000-01.

Rickshaws grew more than 24 percent while numbers of motorcycles and scooters more than doubled since 2000-01. The noise and air pollution are posing great threat to the human health.

Main factors causing degradation to air quality are: a) rapidly growing energy demand and b) a fast growing transport sector. In the cities, widespread use of low quality fuel, combined with a dramatic expansion in the number of vehicles on roads, has led to significant air pollution problems.

Air pollution level in Pakistan's most populated city Karachi is high and climbing causing serious health issues. Although Pakistan's energy consumption is still low by world standards, lead and carbon emissions are major air pollutants in urban centers.

Since the municipal authorities and utility service providers have limitations in extending their facilities, urban congestion is the prime reason of ever-deteriorating ambient air and water quality, solid waste management and loss of biodiversity.

Under the present scenario, the managers of Pakistan's major urban centers are facing rising difficulties in developing their management plans to provide adequate water and sanitation facilities and health services to ensure a healthy living environment.

Environmental degradation is fundamentally linked to poverty in Pakistan. Poverty is the main impediment in dealing with the environment related problems. There is an increasing demand on the already depleting natural resource base of the country. Poor people are directly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods whether agriculture, hunting forestry, fisheries, etc. Poverty combined with a rapidly increasing population and growing urbanization is leading to intense pressures on the environment. This environment poverty nexus cannot be ignored if effective and practical solutions to remedy environmental hazards are to be taken.