Lahore, the cultural heart of Pakistan and home to over 11 million people, is currently grappling with an alarming increase in pediatric patients due to a severe air quality crisis. The city, known for its historic gardens, is now teeming with a suffocating smog that had ranked it as the world's most polluted city last year. The pediatric department of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, a notable public health institution, is swamped with parents seeking treatment for their children affected by the polluted air.
The Toll on Children's Health
Health officials note a staggering 50% rise in pediatric patients over the past month, directly linked to respiratory issues exacerbated by the city's poor air quality. The situation is especially dire for Lahore's children, whose developing organs are more susceptible to the hazardous effects of air pollution. According to UNICEF, outdoor air pollution was responsible for over 150,000 deaths of children under five globally in 2019. In Pakistan, this is one of the top five causes of death.
The Environmental Crisis
With the advent of cooler temperatures in November, Lahore's air quality levels have spiraled out of control. In the last 30 days, 24 were marked as 'hazardous' or 'very unhealthy' by Swiss group IQAir. The city is blanketed in a thick haze that partially obscures the sun and plunges the streets into a foggy gloom at night.
Factors contributing to the worsening air quality include poor quality fuel, crop burning, and industrial activities. The issue is particularly acute in the colder months, as temperature inversion traps pollutants closer to the ground, resulting in stagnant clouds of smog.
Government Response and International Assistance
The government has responded with measures such as partial lockdowns and promoting mask usage. They're even considering cloud seeding to induce artificial rain. However, the situation remains at a critical level, with children bearing the brunt of the health impact. The government has also sought the assistance of neighboring India and consulted with experts in China for potential solutions to the air quality crisis.