Smog disrupts life in Pakistan’s Punjab province

Face masks are selling briskly in Faisalabad, Pakistan, amid worsening air pollution. (APP)
Updated 08 November 2017

Smog disrupts life in Pakistan’s Punjab province

ISLAMABAD: Smog is causing chaos in the Pakistani province of Punjab close to the Indian border, in particular the densely populated provincial capital, Lahore.

Traffic accidents, flight delays, health hazards, and power failures have been reported across the province.

One commuter told Arab News on Saturday that there was “almost zero visibility” on the highway between Islamabad and Lahore. Authorities prohibited heavy vehicles from using that highway on Saturday.

Dozens of accidents resulting in serious injuries and deaths have been reported around Punjab. And a number of flights have been cancelled in the province’s major cities.

“The air in the outskirts of Lahore is very bad,” Lahore resident Adnan Khan told Arab News. “But this is nothing new for us. We go through this phase usually at this time of the year when the temperature starts to drop. It’s the open fields where the density of smog is greater and drifting in towards the city and roads.”

The government has ordered the closure of all oil-based power plants to reduce the smog’s environmental impact. Reports indicate that the region is relying on hydroelectric generation as its primary source of electrical power. This has caused a drop of 7000 megawatts from the distribution grid, as several power plants are offline.

Faheem Khokhar, a professor at the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, told Arab News there is no reason to panic about the nuclear shutdown. “The tripping is likely due to safety reasons,” he said. “Our nuclear plants are secure enough.”

Khohkar says there is no current data on smog levels in Pakistan but he estimated that the “scale is quite high.”

According to local media reports, the Environment Protection Department (EPD) says the smog has been caused by emissions from nine nearby thermal power plants in India, and by Indian farmers setting leftover crops on fire after the harvest.

EPD officials speaking to Geo News on Friday noted that the smog was affecting the Indian cities of New Delhi, Amritsar, and Ambala as well.

The officials urged the Pakistani government to engage Indian authorities over the issue immediately.

A local TV network reported on Friday that the Punjab environment minister blames India for triggering the smog by burning some 35 million tons of waste.

Traffic-choked Jakarta inaugurates mass rapid transit system

Updated 7 min ago

Traffic-choked Jakarta inaugurates mass rapid transit system

  • Tens of thousands of excited Jakartans were in attendance and eager to try riding on the subway for the first time
  • Environmentalists hope that the new line will cut traffic-linked carbon emissions by about half

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s capital inaugurated its first mass rapid transit system on Sunday, a $1.1 billion project seen as crucial to tackling some of the world’s worst traffic congestion.
President Joko Widodo and other officials joined a ceremony in Jakarta to give a green light for the 16-kilometer (10 mile) line, almost six years after construction began on the Japanese-backed project.
Tens of thousands of excited Jakartans were in attendance and eager to try riding on the subway for the first time, mobbing the president for selfies while music blared and traditional performers danced on a nearby stage.
“Honestly I am so happy,” office worker Mutia Fitrianti said. “Now we don’t have to go abroad just to ride an MRT.”
The train system runs above and below ground and stretches from the central Hotel Indonesia to the southern reaches of the Southeast Asian megalopolis of some 30 million people.
It aims to cut travel times between the two points to just 30 minutes from around two hours, offering some relief to frustrated commuters long used to spending much of their day stuck in traffic.
The new line is set to open to the public on Monday, with tickets free during the first week.
Construction on a second line linking downtown to Jakarta’s northern port is also kicking off Sunday with completion slated for 2024, and more lines are envisioned in the future.
A separate elevated rail network is also being built to link satellite cities with Jakarta, nicknamed the Big Durian after the pungent fruit that bitterly divides fans and its detractors.
The public transit projects are part of a sweeping infrastructure push that Widodo hopes will boost the fortunes of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy — and get him re-elected in national polls next month.
“If we have and integrated transportation system, it will be easier for people to go places and they will leave their cars or motorcycles at home,” Widodo told journalists on Sunday.
Over the past decade, rising incomes in the country of 260 million have created a ballooning middle class and sent vehicle ownership soaring.
But that’s also brought hazardous air pollution and annual economic losses that run into the billions as cars crawl along the capital’s roadways in the steamy tropical heat — alongside an underused bus system.
Environmentalists hope that the new line will cut traffic-linked carbon emissions by about half.
It could also make a dent in annual economic losses of some 65 trillion Rupiah ($4.6 billion) linked to road congestion, according to government figures.
The multi-billion dollar project is funded through a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
“We think MRT Jakarta is the project of the century for us,” JICA senior vice president Tanaka Yasushi told reporters.
But transport analysts have cautioned that the new line and cheap prices will not cure the traffic woes of a city infatuated with private vehicles and with few decent sidewalks.
“The MRT won’t immediately ease the traffic because changing the culture and attitudes isn’t easy,” Hendi Bowoputro, a public transit expert at the University of Brawijaya, said before the inauguration.
And the line’s expected 130,000 daily passengers represent only about 10 percent of those who already cram into a decades-old commuter rail network.