KARACHI: The National Forum for Environment and Health (NFEH) said that the lockdown regime enforced in Karachi had provided an excellent opportunity to the authorities concerned to reassess urban sprawl, mass transportation, and the industrial needs of the city to curb harmful carbon emissions.
In a recently issued press statement, NFEH President, Naeem Qureshi, said that Karachi was one of the biggest industrial and commercial hubs in the world where lockdown orders had brought about an immediate drop in its air pollution levels.
The NFEH President said that with public transportation completely halted, minimal use of private vehicles, and limited industrial activity, Karachi’s air pollution problem had been eased for the time being.
Naeem said that the authorities who were responsible for mitigating the perennial environmental degradation issue of the city should take stock of the present situation.
Qureshi said that the relevant authorities should not miss this opportunity as they should properly do real-time monitoring of the drop in air pollution levels in the city with a massive decrease in public transportation and industrial activity due to the lockdown regime in place.
President NFEH said that such real-time monitoring of the air pollution data should lead to proper research studies by scientists whose findings would help the authorities concerned in mitigating the environmental issue.
“The main thing is that once the lockdown orders are withdrawn, benefits of the present situation for the city’s environmental conditions should be retained to a certain extent,” said Qureshi, who is also the convener of the FPCCI’s Central Standing Committee on Environment.
“Such benefits for our environment could only be achieved when we sit together now to do a proper reassessment of our needs to do industrial and transportation activities for the good of the society in a socially responsible and sustainable manner,” Naeem said.
Qureshi said that no doubt the city needed proper infrastructure to fulfill public transportation and industrial requirements, but these systems should carry proper mechanisms to safeguard our environment.
“The present situation once again teaches us the lesson we have long forgotten that environmental laws, rules, and regulations of the State should be enforced in a uniform and indiscriminate manner to mitigate the issue of environmental degradation,” he said.
“While roads today carry fewer vehicles and a minimal number of industries doing their operations in Karachi, we have to think now as to how to massively improve our traveling and industrial practices to safeguard the environment that is constantly being damaged due to harmful emissions,” Naeem said.
“No doubt, the coronavirus epidemic has caused a massive health emergency in our midst, but this is like a blessing in disguise for us as we should not lose this opportunity,” said the NFEH President.
Advisor NFEH, Saquib Ejaz Hussain, said that air pollution is one of the world’s leading health risks. Recent releases from NASA on the air quality over Wuhan before the onset of the corona viral episode show that the region was all covered with pollutants, but the same thinned out after the Chinese attempt to deal with the situation. This leads to the inference that the aerosols in the polluted air were the carrier of the coronavirus.
According to Saquib Hussain, “Exposure to common air pollutants can alter host immunity to respiratory viral infections. Given the number of individuals that contract some kind of respiratory virus each year and considering that the most common form of illness in urban areas is respiratory allergies and infections which account for more hospital visits, potential interactions between exposure to air primary and secondary pollutants and respiratory virus infections have significant public health implications for people throughout Pakistan.”
Hussain further added, “More importantly, air pollution-induced enhanced susceptibility to respiratory viral infections could have even more serious implications for individuals with preexisting pulmonary conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – COPD. The SEPA, being a regulator, is mandated to conduct studies and share results with the public to improve the understanding of how exposure to air pollution enhances the risk for respiratory virus infections and who, if anyone, is most susceptible. An important challenge for the future will be to further our understanding of cellular and molecular mechanisms mediating pollutant-induced effects on the susceptibility to viral infections and potential therapeutic strategies to overcome these effects.”