Abrupt increase in vehicles a main cause of air pollution in Pakistan

KARACHI: Pakistan is a country of 188 million people with average population density of 236 persons per square kilometer, which is higher as compared to many other developing countries. The country has very high migration rate to urban centers which has made the cities very congested and turned the civic infrastructure inadequate, according to new Pakistan Economic Survey 2013-14.

Air quality data recorded in cities confirmed presence of high concentration of suspended particulate matter in air (2-3.5 times higher than the safe limit). Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) is continuously increasing in major cities mainly due to increased number of CNG operated vehicles.

Formation of photo-chemical smog and haze is a common phenomenon in our cities. Most urban citizens rely either on their private motor vehicles or two wheelers or the informal transport sector for urban transport. This has led to a sharp increase in private vehicle ownership. The surge in the demand for private vehicles originated from the increasing affordability on the one hand and availability of vehicle financing from the banking system on the other.

Amongst these, diesel vehicles using crude diesel oil and motorcycles and rickshaws are of most serious concern. Due to overloading, faulty injection nozzles and weak engines, diesel vehicles emit excessive carbon (visible smoke) while motorcycles and rickshaws, due to their two-stroke engines, are the most inefficient in burning fuel and thus contribute most to emissions. The number of motorcycles/scooters is growing fastly in Pakistan and has increased by 133.8 percent in 2012-13 when compared with the year 2001-02. Rickshaws have grown by 24.4 percent in 2012-13.

The main causes of air pollution are the abrupt increase in the number of vehicles, inefficient automotive technology , u se of unclean fuels, uncontrolled emissions of i ndustrial units, emissions of brick kilns, the burning of garbage and the presence of dust. Vehicular emissions in all the major cities of Pakistan are the primary source of air pollution.

The transport sector is the largest user of petroleum products. The use of adulterated fuel and poorly maintained vehicles are some of the reasons for excessive and highly toxic emissions from vehicles. Brick kilns are another source of pollution in many areas. The use of low-grade coal and old tires in brick kilns generates dense black smoke and other kinds of emissions. The main pollutants from these industries are particulate matter, and sulphur- and nitrogen oxides, which are emitted by burning fuels.

The use of coal has increased by 34.3 percent for brick klins in 2012-13 when compared with year 2001-02. Like other forms of air pollution, the magnitude of industrial air pollution has not been fully assessed but sporadic surveys have been carried out in the country by some governmental institutions and scientists in a few major cities. The industrial sector in Pakistan is likely to expand further in future due to a liberal government policy. Almost all metropolitan cities have industrial estates, where a cluster of industries of different types exist. Cement, fertilizer, sugar units, and power plants a considered to be the most air polluting industries of Pakistan.

Many of these are located either in the rural areas or are in the vicinity of secondary towns. Those located in the vicinity of towns cause urban air pollution. A wide range of small- to medium- scale industries (including steel re-rolling, steel recycling, tobacco curing and plastic molding) cause a disproportionate share of pollution through their use of dirty “waste” fuels, such as paper, wood and textile waste .

Despite being a low Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emitter (1% of global emissions), Pakistan is bearing the brunt of climate change related disasters at a high cost to its economy. It therefore, requires concerted efforts to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and relatively fewer efforts to carry out mitigation measures.

A number of measures are needed to be taken to address both Mitigation and Adaptation aspects of climate change through enhancing various ongoing efforts and initiating new activities, as described below: Pakistan’s GHG emissions are bound to increase considerably as the country climbs over the development ladder and strives to provide adequate amount of energy to support its growing socio- economic developmental needs.

With the existing trends and patterns, if timely measures are not taken, the following key environmental indicators are likely to emerge: Population growing from 180 million to 234.4 million by 2025 (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2011)), making cities more congested and polluted. Number of vehicles on roads to increase from 11 million to 35 million further deteriorating air qualities in cities . As the natural gas deposits are getting exhausted and imported oil prices are shooting up, use of low cost fuel like coal, Refuse Derived Fuel, (RDF) Tyre Derived Fuel etc. will be opted. Burning of low grade fuels could worsen the air quality.

The environment-poverty nexus cannot be ignored if effective and practical solutions to remedy environmental hazards are to be taken. In Pakistan, as elsewhere, environment degradation is both a cause and consequence of poverty. A fragile and damaged resource base is a major cause of poverty.

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