With this level of pollution, soon there will be metro trains, buses, cars and planes, but no human beings

Lead: According to Numbeo Pollution Index, Lahore’s pollution levels are “extremely high” and the city enlists itself among the most polluted in the World.

As I drove my motorbike through the dusty and polluted construction site near Singhpura, Lahore, I felt terrible burning and grit in my eyes. I continuously blinked and rubbed my eyes in hope of seeking salvation from the stinging discomfort. Those few seconds felt as if someone was choking me to my demise. Imagine the suffering of those who spend major hours of the day surrounded in such environments.

Environmental degradation remains a cult issue despite the horrendous consequences it accompanies. The number of deaths per annum as a result of environmental pollution exceeds the mainstream causes of human deaths e.g. Terrorism, criminal activities and various diseases, to name a few. Regardless of its critical nature, the issue seldom makes the spotlight and resides way down the pecking order.

In a developing country like Pakistan, environmental issues and their recognition remains alien to its people. A country strangled to its very limits by abounding problems e.g. Education, Health, Sanitation, Human Rights etc has no choice but to overlook any potential problem – such as pollution – until the fundamental problems are solved.

As a citizen of Pakistan’s metropolitan city, Lahore, I am overwhelmed with awe at the current environmental state of the city, or at least major parts of it. There are areas, mostly surrounded by construction projects e.g. The Metro train, which are covered in dense clouds of dust. Such is the magnitude of the problem that major parts of the city rarely sight a clear sky.

The constructional works also result in traffic jams due to narrow spaces for the passage of traffic. This means vehicles constantly exhale poisonous gases while stationary and in motion. These malignant gases are inhaled by passersby and those struck in the jam, resulting in numerous respiratory diseases and infections.

Overpopulation in terms of people and vehicles in Lahore has also produced major problems, which is largely due to it being a metropolitan city. People from other areas of Punjab province migrate to Lahore to improve standards and lifestyle, since majority of the cities in Punjab are underdeveloped, or perhaps, developing.

Pertaining to this issue, I had the privilege to talk to constructional workers, labourers and business owners located along the construction site. They are immensely troubled by the situation and environments they have to work in.

“There is always a lot of dust in this area. I work at this fuel pump from 10 in the morning to 3 at noon, and these 5 hours are suffocating” said a worker at a fuel station located near the construction site at Singhpura, Lahore.

When I had a casual conversation with one of the labourers working at the site, he complained about the adversity that accompanies his job, but he is short of alternative opportunities and to provide for his family and children, he has to work long hours in strenuous conditions.

“It’s difficult; there is too much dust and heat. But it’s better than being jobless and dying of hunger” he said.

Landfill and dumping sites in the city are another major cause of concern. The humongous size of the landfills and the abundance of garbage poured regularly pose a great threat to the environment and are a frightening sight for any environment benevolent person.

According to a UK based website, poisonous gases are dispatched from landfill sites causing Air Pollution contributing to global warming. Furthermore, the decomposition of the waste material produces stinking smell in the air, and destroys the soil leaving it dysfunctional and non-productive.

The positive thing, however, is that where governmental mega projects are precipitating pollution; the government is taking necessary steps in trying to counter environmental degradation. Recently, Government of Punjab announced their aim of planting 14 million trees in 2017. The step itself holds considerable significance as plantation of trees on a large scale would certainly help reduce degradation and pollution.

Another important step in this counter warfare against pollution is recycling. In 2014, a recycling project “Clean Pakistan” was introduced, but the process remains in its initial stages.

The implementation and sustainability of these projects and programs is arguably fragile. Compared to the other projects, environmental projects are often taken for granted or are not directed properly. In such polluted environments, there are two options; either you stop breathing or keep breathing until you stop breathing. The eventual cost of human negligence is human life itself.

If we, as individuals, do not take necessary steps today, then soon, there will be metro trains and buses, cars and planes, but unfortunately no HUMAN BEINGS. It is essential for us to realise that the world our ancestors left for us is what we should strive to protect and care.

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