Thursday Nov 09 2017

Pakistan and India should use SAARC to collaborate on smog: Punjab’s Minister of Environment

There are no two ways about it. Smog is, not just an India or Pakistan issue, it is a regional issue. Both countries need to collaborate in order to find a sustainable solution. The only proper forum to do that, at the moment, is through the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

The nature of this emergency is such that let’s say Pakistan effectively tackles smog and India is still struggling, we will, regardless of our efforts, still be affected by air pollution. Hence, it has to be a joint effort.

Smog is pollution, plain and simple, and it is harmful to us. No one wants it to linger any longer. We have to clean our air. Now to do that, we need to have a three-pronged strategy – a long-term solution, a medium one and a short-term solution. Punjab is already implementing some urgent, short-term measures.

Further to nip this evil in the bud, we have to be sure of its root cause. Is the smog caused only by agricultural factors? How much do urban factories and polluting cars contribute? Even if we ban crop stubble burnings, we have to provide farmers with an alternative.

Now, is the time for us to say, enough is enough. The developed world did this to us. We are a developing country. We did not pollute the planet's air. There is no turning back at this point. We have to, absolutely have to, find a way to save our future generations.

As for India, the federal government can initiate contact across the border. The Punjab government cannot on its own. Parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and upper Sindh are also being enveloped in smog so the matter is no longer limited to one provincial government. It is, and should be, on the state’s agenda.

- Zakia Shah Nawaz Khan is the Punjab Minister of Environment.