Air Pollution: Key Environmental Issues in Pakistan(W-99)
Mahmood A. Khwaja and Shaheen Rafi Khan
Air pollution is rapidly growing environmental problem in Pakistan. Highly inefficient energy use, accelerated growth in vehicle population and vehicle kilometers traveled, increasing industrial activity without adequate air emission treatment or control, open burning of solid waste including plastic, and use of ozone depleting substances (ODSs) are some of the major causes of deterioration of ambient air quality.
Some key environmental issues about air quality in Pakistan have been assessed and discussed, using the Pressure, State, Impact and Response (P-S-I-R) framework.
Rapidly growing energy demand, fuel substitution such as high emitting coal and oil, and high-energy intensity are the key factors contributing to air pollution. Some factors contributing to high-energy intensity are transmission and distribution losses in power generation, fuel prices subsidies on diesel and ageing vehicles, which are primarily diesel powered.
The state of air quality has been assessed by examining the emission levels of air pollutants and ambient air quality. The average increase in sulfur dioxide across major emitting sectors (industry, transport and power) has been 23-fold over the past 20 years. Similarly, nitrogen oxides increased to 25-fold in the power sector and carbon dioxide increased an average of fourfold. Pakistan’s per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are far below the global average.
Ambient air quality data show that carbon monoxide levels in Karachi and Lahore considerably exceed WHO’s recommended levels. Particulate matter content cross safety levels in the major industrial cities in the Punjab province. The reported lead levels in ambient air sites in Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi are also quite high compared to WHO’s permissible levels.
The health impacts of air, water pollution and productivity losses from deforestation and soil erosion have been assessed at 1.71 billion dollars, or 3.3 percent of GNP, in the early 90s. The losses attributed to air pollution, in terms of health care costs, amount to 500 million dollars a year.
To combat air pollution, the government has formulated acts and policies, including the National Environment Action Plan (NEAP). Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997 (PEPA-97) covers air, water, soil and noise pollution, including hazardous waste disposal and vehicular pollution. Its section 15, sub-sections 1 to 3, pertain to regulation of motor vehicles.
NEAP reflects a renewed commitment to environment and focuses on taking immediate measures in four priority areas of concerns – air, water, solid waste, and ECO system management – to achieve a visible improvement in the quality of environment, including air.