Things I have Learnt the Hard Way
January 20, 2015
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March 6, 2015

A room with a view - Lahore: Smog or pollution?

By Fareeha Qayoom


Check out the skyline and the rows of housing in the following image. Notice anything funny?

  1. We don’t seem to have any green vegetation by and large, (except for a row of trees near the parking lot).
  2. We have a lot of flat roofed homes -in other words, there is plenty of room for solar panels (and roof gardens) – only if the technology was affordable and available to an average Joe (read Aslam) and we had thought of green roofs or roof gardens when we built our homes and could afford them to begin with!
  3. There is only one company supplying the water storage solutions – notice the blue water tanks on the roofs. 😀
  4. Notice the haphazard development? The chaos and lack of cohesiveness in this image? No clear zoning.
  5. Residential, commercial, and sewage drain all co-exist peacefully together. No, this is not a shanty town or a slum. It’s a middle class residential area adjacent to Model Town. (Though, its tough defining the middle class now in Pakistan – is it an income group that can afford their own place, runs their own transport, sends their kids to private schools and can afford a UPS, fridge, cable TV, smart phone, desk top computer so on and so forth? No, I am not describing the rich here. The middle class has to do all that too. All Pakistani citizens regardless of their income group have to provide these basic amenities for themselves – alternative energy solutions, private schooling, private housing, private transport, private security, private blah, blah, blah).
  6. Did you check out the garbage in the vacant lots?
  7. Did you see the skyline in this image? Is it pollution or smog which is plaguing our city? I couldn’t decide. It could be both. It was quite sunny when I took this photo (around 2:00 PM) today. Hmmm….no wonder a picture is worth a thousand words at least. 😀

Bottom line, Lahore is becoming highly polluted – let’s all plant trees. (This, we can do at an individual level and it doesn’t cost a lot, though the tree might take up some of our time and TLC to grow and thrive). This is doable.

As Nike says, “Just do it!”


Lahore - A view from my office window

Lahore – A view from my office window – Feb 6, 2015










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Fareeha Qayoom
Fareeha Qayoom
Publisher and editor-in-chief of and former print editions of The Knit-Xtyle Fashion Review (tkfr), a trade newsletter for the textile and apparel industry of Pakistan. In short, Publisher, editor, and a blogger. In addition, she has served as Managing Editor of MIT Technology Review Pakistan, print and web editions (2015-16). Total of 7 editions were published under her leadership by ITU, Punjab's first public technology university under the license of MIT Technology Review (USA). She has also managed Value Mag in the same capacity, a real estate and lifestyle magazine for Value TV - 2008-9. Published freelancer for The News on Sunday 1994-96. Fareeha has over 21 years of solid management experience – of managing brands (like Harley Davidson, Munsingwear, Chaps, Chaps Ralph Lauren etc.,), Retailers (like Target, Mervyns, Kohl's, Marks and Spencer etc.,), customers (VPs, Product Managers, Unit Managers, and Buyers), and products (apparel - woven, knits, men's, women's, children's, Print and online publishing units), projects, teams, and processes, information, content, and data, staff, vendors, and time. Versatile and adaptable with international exposure, communication and language skills (oral and written), and a consistent track record of achieving company targets and objectives, plus a MA in Political Science from Punjab University, a MSc in Economics from La Salle University, Louisiana, USA, and a BA in Economics from Kinnaird College for Women.


  1. more reading?

    Lahore now the most polluted city in Pakistan?
    Thursday, September 24, 2009
    By Ali Raza (The News

    LAHORE: Rapidly increasing industrialization and commercialization has turned the provincial metropolis — once known as the City of Gardens — into one of the most polluted cities in the country.

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  2. Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore among the most polluted cities of the world: WHO

    Quetta Peshawar and Lahore are among the most polluted cities of the world, a WHO report said.

    Although Paris has leapt into the headlines over an alert for dangerous atmospheric particles, it does not ordinarily count among the world’s most polluted cities.

    According to a 2011 World Health Organization (WHO) report Quetta shares fourth place on the most polluted city list along with Ludhiana, India. Peshawar and Lahore also make it to the top 10 list.

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  3. Rare trees murdered for Bagh-e-Jinnah sewer

    Ali Raza
    Friday, February 06, 2015
    From Print Edition


    IN a ruthless manner, decades old historical trees have been uprooted and cut to construct a sewage channel which ignited a heated debate among environmentalists who thought that there was no need to cut these trees.

    The trees were cut to construct a concrete drain, which crossed the entire garden (from The Mall to Lawrence Road). The environmentalists said trees were habitat for the resident bats of the garden, which were now dislocated.

    Prof Dr Aminul Haq, ex-Dean of Sciences GCU Lahore, said the entire garden was surrounded by a sewage channel, which was traversing across the garden and could easily be cleaned up after some basic treatment and removal of sludge. He said building up such a huge elevated structure in the middle of the garden was unnecessary and could be avoided. Dr Aminul Haq, who is a botanist and ecologist, witnessed the slaughter of these historical trees. Talking to The News, he said ‘I have counted about 72 logs of different species of plants and taken photos in a hurry because there is a possibility that the garden administration might remove all the traces of evidence.’ He said it was sad to see the way they have planned the whole affair.

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  4. River Ravi pollution puts lives at risk
    LAHORE – Huge discharge of untreated domestic and industrial waste has turned River Ravi, the most important source for maintaining aquifer level in Lahore, into a dumping pit, causing serious health and environmental hazards, The Nation has learnt.

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  5. Swedish company to inspect vehicle fitness in Punjab
    LAHORE – An agreement was signed between the Punjab government and Sweden on Wednesday regarding inspection and certification system of vehicles.

    Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was the chief guest at the ceremony held at Model Town.
    Secretary Transport and President OPUS Group of Sweden Carl Magnus Greko signed the document.

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  6. Plunge into the darkness

    Kamila Hyat
    Thursday, January 29, 2015
    From Print Edition

    There are certain events that stand as broader metaphors. One of these came this weekend, when a fault in the National Transportation and Distribution Company plunged some 80 percent of the country into pitch darkness.

    This is not an entirely unprecedented event. We have faced similar blackouts before. But in so many ways this plunge into darkness symbolises the kind of anarchy we live in: an anarchy where nothing is certain, where little is known and where life moves forward in staggering steps as people attempt to cope with the daily demands of life lived in these circumstances.

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  7. Do we want Lahore to become like Delhi?

    Delhi Wakes Up to an Air Pollution Problem It Cannot Ignore

    NEW DELHI — For years, this sprawling city on the Yamuna River had the dirtiest air in the world, but few who lived here seemed conscious of the problem or worried about its consequences.

    Now, suddenly, that has begun to change. Some among New Delhi’s Indian and foreign elites have started to wear the white surgical masks so common in Beijing. The United States Embassy purchased 1,800 high-end air purifiers in recent months for staff members’ homes, with many other major embassies following suit.

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  8. This year, the smog is the worst ever – in history of Lahore. It started in November…strange rumors circulating – Its traveled from India. It’s the result of tear gas shelling in Islamabad ‘coz of Imran Khan’s call for another ‘dharna,’ blah, blah…I think its home brewed. Urbanization, industrialization, construction work, pollution, and cutting down of green cover (trees) to make way for more cars, metro buses, and what not…Lahore doesn’t have clean air.

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  9. It’s official: India is sending its smog to Pakistan according to NASA
    LAHORE – The persistent spell of the toxic smog that looms over Lahore and other parts of Punjab is not essentially a by-product of pollution produced within Pakistani boundaries but is largely contributed by a perpetual rival – India, NASA observed in its forecast.

    A forecast by NASA points that high levels of “fires and thermal anomalies” in Pakistan are caused by a colossal amount of toxic haze rolling into Pakistani Punjab from Indian Punjab, putting millions at risk.

    The smog that heretofore was thought to be an offshoot of vehicular and industrial emissions in Pakistan has its origins in Indian soil, a fact that many experts had already speculated.

    The report says that the pollutants are from staggering amount — 32 million tons (30 billion kgs) of leftover straw — being burnt by Indian farmers, which is an age-old practice.
    Delhi was engulfed by a blanket of thick smog, causing poor visibility with the air quality index reaching alarming levels across the city.

    Extravagant fireworks in Diwali celebrations across the border have also been cited as one of the major reasons for the striking amount of pollutants in the air at the outset of winter this year.

    However, images published by NASA suggest that burning of crops in the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana could be the biggest reason behind the air pollution in the region.

    Dr Qamar uz Zaman Chaudhry, national climate change expert and former Director General of Pakistan’s Meteorological Department also believes that the main source of the pollutants in our lower atmosphere is Eastern Punjab where all the coal-based industries are centered (across the border in India).

    Lahore and other areas of northern and central Punjab have been encircled by a thick layer of smog with sunshine becoming totally imperceptible as haze spreads over the sky. Motorways have been reportedly blocked and flights may soon have to be delayed or canceled. A spate of fog-related accidents was reported across Punjab.

    According to Dr Ghulam Rasool, Director General of the Pakistan Meteorological Department, the situation is going to last till the end of December, as it hasn’t rained in the central Punjab since October.

    Dr Sajid Rashid, Principal Environment College, University of Punjab, has blamed paddy stubble burning in Indian Punjab as the main reason for rising level of smoke in the air.

    “Unfortunately, in Pakistan, we lack the equipment for real-time monitoring of air quality,” he regretted while talking to DP Global.

    Smog can be responsible for any ailment from minor pains to deadly pulmonary diseases such as lung cancer.

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  10. Why Punjab’s smog has aggravated this year

    LAHORE: The latest smog situation has left Lahore in a choking haze, but even in the past environmental experts and activists have been vocal about air pollution issue. Now NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has pointed out that burning of crop stubbles may be a major reason for a smog blanket in New Delhi, and also in Lahore, as the map shows several places in West Punjab that have thermal emissions.

    Both East and West Punjab have two growing seasons — one from May to September and the other from November to April. In May and November, Punjab farmers typically sow crops and vegetables for the next season; but before sowing, they often set fire to fields to clear stubbles of previous crop and make them suitable for next sowing.

    Experts’ views vary on the matter.

    “While burning is a major problem… I don’t believe this is the reason why the smog has seen a spike this year,” says environmentalist Aleem Butt. “Action should definitely be taken for burning crop stubbles, but in the meantime we are being invaded by noxious gases from coal power plants. Another very big cause which is being ignored is the high level of deforestation this year. Too many trees were cut down first for the Kalma Underpass and now the Orange Line.”

    As for an alternative method for crop stubble burning, the best method is to plough the stalks back into the earth where they can decompose into humus.

    Environmentalist and researcher Noman Ashraf says that labs of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are not operational, and without any empirical evidence, there can hardly be any crackdown on factories and other offenders.

    “There are third-party labs which are doing this work, but the EPA has not bothered to renew their collaborative licences with them either,” he says.

    According to him, the Air Quality Index monitors were installed at five points during the last decade, but because the instruments were not calibrated they eventually became useless. “If we look at China and India, they at least have figures to go by,” says Mr Ashraf.

    “If the EPA claims to have regular readings then, under the public’s right to know, these figures should be uploaded on a website or publicised through media.”

    EPA argues that it has state-of-the-art labs and regular readings. “We only had one purchasing issue… otherwise all our equipment is working just fine,” says an official of the EPA. Now with air pollution levels high enough to cause concern, EPA has worked out readings of between November 2 and 4.

    And these reveal some startling figures.

    For example, nitric oxide should not be more than 40mcg per cubic metre but during this period Mall Road saw over 306mcg/cubic metre, and Mohlanwal (near Bahria Town) 332mcg/cubic metre.

    Particles less than 2.5µm (micrometres) are called PM2.5. They are approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair. The benchmark for PM2.5 should be 35mcg/cubic metre, but none of the figures recorded during the period fell within this range.

    Readings were similar for PM10, whose levels should have been below 150, but were recorded to be higher in Shahdara area (264). However in other places levels were below 150.

    Sulphur dioxide, which should be well below 120mcg per cubic metre, was seen highest in Mominpura, an appalling 1,373mcg per cubic metre. The carbon monoxide levels, which should have been below 5msg/cubic metre, were recorded at 21mcg/ cubic metre on Mall Road, and 17mcg/cubic metre at Mohlanwal, while at other places the levels were slightly higher than 5.

    Meanwhile, Ashraf says the issue of crop stubble burning may have been misinterpreted. “This is nothing new in the region and has been happening for decades. But this recent spike is because farmers in East Punjab, who had originally been selling their wheat stalks for biomass plants, burnt their agri-waste this year after their requested price was turned down by the biomass plants.”

    A sharecropper farmer of Okara area says that seeds and other agriculture inputs are so costly nowadays that it is inconceivable to buy more land only in order to plough the stalks back in the ground. “Burning is much more convenient for us.”

    Naseemur Rehman Shah, a spokesperson for EPA, says his department has urged the agriculture department to take notice of the problem, but no action has so far been taken.

    He too doesn’t agree with the view that crop burning is the major reason behind the smog. “Climatic change is happening at a global level, and every region is affected. Smog or fog that used to come later in the year has happened earlier this time.”

    But when asked about the trees cut down in Lahore because of various development projects, Rehman says the EPA did not disallow it because that was the last resort. “The government has announced that for every public sector project one per cent of the total cost has to go into tree plantation,” he says.

    He adds that even corridors like the Motorway are having trees planted along them. “Sometimes tree cutting has been allowed because it was the need of the day,” he says.

    There are also other factors contributing to air pollution and one of these is factories, he says. “While crop stubble burning is a serious issue, most of the fumes are coming from East Punjab; but at the same time from within Lahore, we have factories that cannot use natural gas and therefore burn all kinds of materials including rubber to create fuel.”

    He says that around 300 units have been shut down by the Punjab government in the recent past and these include large- and small-scale industries.

    Regarding air pollution, Rehman says that currently there are about 3,000 cases under trial in environment tribunals from all over Punjab.

    But apart from industries, there is the huge issue of traffic as well.

    Rehman says that traffic congestion, bad roads, increasing number of vehicles, old vehicles with bad engines, and banned vehicles were main causes and many were still operating. The two-stroke auto and cycle rickshaws both are seen running despite being banned.

    “We are fully aware of the situation and the ban is being implemented slowly. After all changes cannot happen overnight. A decade ago we were worried about how the air pollution issue was being neglected but by introducing alternative transport projects like the Orange Line… the government is moving in the right direction.”

    “These projects are most environment-friendly,” says Rehman. “Orange Line will run on electricity, new LTC buses will use CNG and other Euro 2 and 3 standard buses will use good quality diesel.”

    Rafay Alam, an environmental lawyer, says unless there are proper metering systems, not just in Lahore but all over Punjab, no one could make any conclusive claims.

    “First off, monitors are needed to tell us what the pollution levels are,” he says. “When we get accurate data the pollutants will be precisely identified and so a proper response can be formulated.”

    Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2016

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  11. Smog Chokes Delhi, Leaving Residents
    ‘Cowering by Our Air Purifiers’
    Levels of the most dangerous particles soared
    over the weekend in some places to more than 16
    times the limit India’s government considers safe.

    By ELLEN BARRYNOV. 7, 2016

    NEW DELHI — For days, many in Delhi have been living as if under siege, trying to keep the dirty air away from their children and older parents.

    But it is not easy: Open a window or a door, and the haze enters the room within seconds. Outside, the sky is white, the sun a white circle so pale that you can barely make it out. The smog is acrid, eye-stinging and throat-burning, and so thick that it is being blamed for a 70-vehicle pileup north of the city.

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