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October 16, 2017

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Smog revisits Punjab, causing health complications

LAHORE: Last year’s hazardous environmental phenomenon of smog has reappeared as haze intensified by smoke or other atmospheric pollutants is causing breathing problems and itching in eyes to the people in Lahore.

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The Punjab health authorities of both Primary and Secondary Healthcare and Specialised Healthcare and Medical Education remain oblivious to the changing climatic phenomenon as the devil-may-care attitude impeded urgent issuance of a public health advisory to motivate people to adopt preventive measures to avoid its hazardous effects.

Medical experts believe that the current environmental phenomenon caused due to stubble burning in the fields in Indian Punjab coupled with traffic and industrial pollution is affecting the climate and creating acidic smog in Lahore and its neighbouring districts in the absence of breeze and rain during the prevailing weather conditions of transition of summer to winter season in the region.

The medical experts identified burning of the cut stalks of cereal plants in Eastern Punjab in the Indian territory, industrial pollution and acidic emissions, growing traffic load and constant digging around the city, unfinished and dilapidated condition of roads on the route of Orange Line Metro Train and construction of Chaubacha Underpass on the canal as well as other infrastructure development projects were poisoning the climate in the city.

It is learnt that the patients were arriving in hospital emergencies in Lahore with complaints of sore throat and itching in their eyes. However, yet there is no emergency situation in hospitals so far due to this environmental problem, which allows time to health authorities in Punjab to raise public awareness for precautionary measures and prepare to take preventive steps to save the public from smog’s detrimental effects.

The people experiencing the ill-effects which were particularly affecting children’s health urged the Punjab government to consider declaring holidays in schools especially if the smoggy weather persisted and aggravated to the extent that it might pose serious health hazards to the children.

An environmental expert, Muhammad Amjad, said that the smoggy weather condition was a regional phenomenon as India, China and Pakistan experienced this weather condition every year between October and December. He said that the smoke and pollution due to burning of rice husk after recent harvesting of paddy crops in Eastern part of Indian Punjab had precipitated its intensity that travelled towards the west and stayed in Lahore and other districts of Punjab due to zero wind speed.

He said that the current weather condition was likely to stay for at least one month as there was no rain in sight till mid-November this year. "The smoggy conditions can only be washed away by rains," he added. He advised the Punjab government to ban burning of the crop waste and garbage, and also asked the people especially the farmers to voluntarily stop burning the waste.

Acting Vice-Chancellor of University of Health Sciences Prof Dr Faisal Masood said that the smog mainly affected the throat, eyes and lungs and caused irritation, therefore, if possible, it was advisable that people avoid going in the open. He advised the bicycle and bike riders to use helmet or yellow mask and wear glasses to avoid harmful effects of smog.

He said that there were no serious health hazards due to smog, but the elderly people, smokers and asthma patients should take extra care to prevent its hazardous effects. He advised the people to stay at home as much as they could, adding that the people should also avoid dusting and instead do wet mopping to clean their houses.

"If anyone feels smog, dust or pollution particles in their houses, they should simply boil water, whose vapors would create moisture and bring the particles down," he said, adding that the people should wash their faces and hands after every hour to save themselves from its harmful effects. He also asked the people to do gargle with clean water to protect themselves from throat problem and also recommended to the people that eyes should be washed with fresh and cool water again and again in case of irritation. If necessary, the people may use artificial tears (eye drops) to get relief from irritation in their eyes, he said, but warned not to use any antibiotic or self-medication in this regard.

To a question, he recommended staring operating fountains to help ground the suspended particles in the air, while mentioning that it would not cause dengue as its peak season was already withering away.

When asked about any consideration of an artificial rain to wipe out the smog, he said there was no such proposal as yet, but mentioned that the authorities in Peking stopped vehicular traffic during the similar weather conditions and plied electric prams instead, which cleared the smog within a few days. He also called for controlling the industrial pollution and vehicular emissions, rapid urbanisation and wayward infrastructure development to save the climate from acidic effects.

Dr Salman Kazmi from Mayo Hospital advised people to restrict their travel during smoggy weather condition to avoid accidents as it reduced visibility especially on the motorway and in other open areas. However, if necessary, he said, the people should avoid travel in the darkness or in the morning before 10am. He asked the people to keep headlights and hazard lights on and do not stop in the middle of the road while travelling during smog.

He asked the government to immediately launch a vigorous awareness campaign in the affected districts against the environmental pollution and smog. He proposed distributing leaflets and face masks among the people. He observed that smog and environmental pollution were a serious threat to the health and advised the people to adopt precautionary measures against smog to protect themselves from long-lasting respiratory diseases.

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