Today, Lahore’s streets are expected to be calm and air breathable. Cars and buses ferrying people to and from workplaces will stay off the road. Pickups packed with schoolchildren and their oversized and overweight bags will not been seen whizzing around, going the wrong way – because, schools and offices have been told to remain closed on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays till January 15, 2023.
On orders of the Lahore High Court, the Punjab government issued a notification that all public and private schools and private offices in Lahore to follow a four-day workweek due to the worsening smog situation in the city.
As the air quality index topped the 230 (very unhealthy) mark, Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi announce to impose an environment emergency in Lahore. His call to address the toxic air pollution concerns in the province he governs is not extreme but much delayed.
For the past many years, autumn in Lahore is the smog season, the worst time of the year for one of the most polluted cities in the world. Come October and people start to cough and sniffle and their eyes feel itchy. Why then do the administrators of the city wait till the last minute to raise warnings?
The action ordered to keep offices and schools closed for three days a week is a repeat from last year — on November 22, 2021, the Punjab government decided to shut schools to protect children from harmful effects of smog and to control air pollution in Lahore.
Before closures of schools start to show further learning losses among schoolchildren, the provincial government must adopt an environment policy that fights the menace on the day-to-day basis than once a year when the smog becomes unbearable in October or November.
Vehicular emission remains the main source of pollution in the city and its surrounding areas. Even though the government has taken cosmetic measures to control the situations, such as encouraging the use of Euro-5 petrol, it has not taken any concrete steps to reduce the number of motor vehicles congesting the city streets.
The cost of this sheer negligence is too high. Our children are still recovering from the effects of school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic; learning losses are high; and school dropout rate has increased.
Educationists and academics have raised concerns about the impact of interruptions in face-to-face education on student learning. Thus, before closures of schools start to show further learning losses, the provincial government must adopt an environment policy that fights the menace on the day-to-day basis than once a year when the smog becomes unbearable in October or November.