Previously, Lahore has experienced thick layers of fog in its short winter season. However, the fog that the city is used to is mere condensed water vapours suspended in the atmosphere. This year, a dense smoke-like cover has been witnessed, which unlike the regular fog, poses severe health and environmental hazards for the city’s population.
Smog, literally translated as smoke and fog, is a mixture of air pollutants – nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds that combine with sunlight to form ground-level ozone. While ozone can be beneficial when it is high above the Earth, ground-level ozone causes respiratory diseases and burning of the eyes.
The jury is hung on where this November smog has emerged from. But there is a clear scientific explanation for it.
“There are coal operated industries on the foothills of the Himalayas in India. The pollutants generated from there are deflected from the mountains and as the wind blows from East to West, the polluted air enters Pakistan through the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab area,” says Dr Ghulam Rasul, Director General Pakistan Meteorological Department. “The dry weather in Pakistan has aggravated the situation and has caused the dust particles to remain in the atmosphere for longer, resulting in the smog we are experiencing.”
However, while rain seems to be the answer to the current problem, “due to sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide present in the atmosphere, if we receive light rainfall, it will be in the form acid rain which is dangerous for humans as well as crops,” says Dr. Rasul. “What we need is heavy rainfall so the chemicals get diluted.”
Until the rains come, the population will have to bear with the health hazards that come with smog.
“It can lead to various respiratory illnesses because the pollutants will be inhaled. Once in the lungs, the smog can cause inflammation and allergic reactions,” says Dr. Shahid Imran Ali, ENT Specialist. “For people already suffering from respiratory ailments, this can severely aggravate symptoms.”
Read more: Pakistan at Risk
According to Dr. Imran, individuals should limit their outdoor activities during smog. Face masks should be worn when travelling on open air vehicles such as rickshaws and motorcycles. In instances of smog accumulating in houses, all windows should promptly be closed and exhaust fans should be switched on to filter the air inside.
The question on everyone’s mind now, is when is this weather pattern going to pass? According to Dr. Rasul, “Rainfall is predicted to be low during December and November, which means smog, fog and haze will continue till then.”