LAHORE: The anti-smog squad van careens through choking traffic in Lahore, on its way to track down factories belching out smoke — a seemingly futile task in one of the world’s most polluted cities.
Inside the white vehicle sits an armed escort protecting the six members of the team, who clutch a list of locations they plan to inspect that day.
They scan the grey, heavy sky for telltale plumes of toxic smoke that indicate a factory is breaking environmental laws.
“All we need to do is follow the smoke to get to the source, we don’t even need the lists,” says Ali Ijaz, the environment department official in charge of the new operation, which is due to run for a month until mid-December.
The operation’s five squads are the latest effort by authorities in Lahore, near the border with India, to curb an annual pollution spike that has left more than 11 million residents gasping for air.
Ijaz says they intend to visit 300 industrial factories in the sprawling metropolis that have been identified as being responsible for the worst emissions.
Air quality in India and Pakistan has deteriorated in recent years, with winter’s hazardous pollution driven by a mixture of low-grade diesel fumes and smoke from seasonal crop burn off, worsened by the colder temperatures. Lahore is routinely ranked as one of the world’s most polluted urban centres, and frequently tops daily rankings.
The hazardous air quality can cause breathing issues that range from discomfort to respiratory tract and heart diseases.
But authorities have been slow to act, blaming the smog on India or claiming the figures are exaggerated.
This year the pollution has settled in earlier than usual, blanketing the city in stagnant, dirty grey air for days. Last week, provincial chief minister Usman Buzdar called it a “calamity.”
On a recent mission, one of the five teams heads to a neighbourhood where smoke billows from numerous factories and mills that operate among the city’s dense population.
Meanwhile, several flights were delayed for hours and major highways were closed in Pakistan on Thursday as the country’s cities grappled with poor air quality.
Flights to Dubai and Istanbul were among dozens delayed due to smog that has engulfed Karachi. In Punjab, low visibility caused by thick smog forced the closure of a major highway between the capital Islamabad and Lahore. — AFP/dpa