Smog causes closure of schools in eastern Pakistan

Pakistani students stand outside their school which is closed due to poor air quality in Lahore, Pakistan. (AP)
Updated 08 November 2019

Smog causes closure of schools in eastern Pakistan

  • Indian farmers who are burning residues of produce in cultivated areas blamed

LAHORE: Pakistan’s provincial administration of Punjab was forced to close all schools in Lahore on Thursday, as the city was engulfed by smog.

“Lahore is among the top 10 most polluted cities in the world, according to Air Visual,” Nazifa Butt, climate manager at World Wildlife Fund Pakistan, told Arab News. “The ideal range for good air quality is between zero and 100. Lahore’s air quality went beyond 600 on Nov. 6, causing significant concern.”

Air Visual is an organization that was set up in 2015 to monitor air pollution. The hazardous levels compelled the province’s chief minister, Usman Buzdar, to announce the closure of schools on Thursday in a Twitter post. “Due to the sudden increase in smog, all schools in Lahore will remain closed tomorrow (Thursday),” he tweeted on Wednesday night.

The Punjab Environment Department blamed Indian farmers for the situation, citing the city’s location on the country’s eastern border.

“The smog increased in Lahore due to the burning of residues of produce in Indian cultivated areas and the changing direction of the wind,” said an official handout issued by the chief minister’s secretariat on Thursday.

Pakistan’s cultural capital, Lahore is no stranger to thick layers of smog that hang all over the city in winter. 

The country’s second largest metropolis suffers due to smoke emissions from dozens of brick kilns and mills located in and around its neighborhoods.

The authorities burn all garbage produced in the city, and many farmers set rice stubbles on fire before ploughing their fields. Lahore has also lost a significant number of trees as it has expanded.

Experts believe the poor air quality mostly affects the health of children and elderly people.

“There are 4.32 million students in Lahore who are only enrolled in private schools,” said Kashif Mirza, president of the Private Schools Association. 

“Last night (Wednesday), the smog situation became extremely bad and there was a concern it could pose a threat to children’s health. However, the situation improved due to short intervals of rain that brought down the level of pollution somewhat.”

“Be that as it may, people are suffering from diseases related to the chest and throat,” Dr. Saleem Shahzad Cheema told Arab News. 

“Children are the most vulnerable residents of the city. In the last three hours, we have treated more than 50 people, 35 of them children. We are hoping that the situation will get better, though, in the next few days since a few rain spells may minimize the smog level.”


Taliban say prisoner swap promised by Kabul fails to happen

Updated 2 min 56 sec ago

Taliban say prisoner swap promised by Kabul fails to happen

  • The three Taliban prisoners included Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of the Taliban’s deputy chief Sirajuddin Haqqani, who leads the fearsome Haqqani militant network
  • They were to be exchanged for American University of Afghanistan professors, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks

ISLAMABAD: Three Taliban prisoners who were to be freed in exchange for an American and an Australian national, both kidnapped in 2016, are still in custody in Bagram prison, north of the capital Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Friday.
The three Taliban prisoners did not show up at an exchange site that had been agreed upon with the US, though Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said they would be freed.
Mujahid had no explanation for the no-show.
The three Taliban prisoners included Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of the Taliban’s deputy chief Sirajuddin Haqqani, who leads the fearsome Haqqani militant network. They were to be exchanged for American University of Afghanistan professors, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks.
Mujahid said the professors are still in Taliban custody.
In a televised address to the nation on Wednesday, Ghani said the “conditional release” was a very hard decision to make.
Prisoner releases were a key point during peace talks between the US and Taliban last year. US President Donald Trump abruptly ended the talks in September, following a spate of violent attacks in Kabul that killed more than a dozen people, including a US soldier.
The prisoner exchange was seen as a possible door to restarting the talks. US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has crisscrossed the region in recent weeks meeting with Washington’s NATO allies, as well as Russia, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
President Ghani has repeatedly demanded his government be included in talks with the Taliban, who have refused saying the Afghan government is an American puppet.
Ghani is now in the middle of a controversial contest for his job as president following Afghanistan’s Sept. 28 elections, which drew allegations of widespread misconduct and fraud.
Preliminary results were supposed to be released on Thursday, but have once again been postponed.
Ghani had hoped a big win in the presidential polls would solidify his political position, but the recount of ballots has been challenged by his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power in Afghanistan’s coalition government.
That government was cobbled together after the 2014 presidential elections, which were so deeply overwhelmed by allegations of fraud that the United States stepped in to broker a power sharing agreement between Abdullah and Ghani.