The Badshahi Mosque is shown amid heavy smog conditions in Lahore.  (Photo: Arif ALI / AFP)

Red eyes, coughing, the smell of smoke everywhere and cars driving with their lights on in the middle of the day. A toxic cloud envelops the city again Pakistani Lahore and its citizens are getting desperate.

The megacity of 11 million people near the Indian border was once the capital of the Mongol Empire and still persists as the cultural epicenter of Pakistan.

But now it regularly appears among the most polluted in the world, when a mix of low-quality diesel fuel emissions, fumes from seasonal burning of crops and cold winter temperatures coalesce into a thick, opaque fog.

Syed Hasnain is visibly tired as he waits for his four-year-old son, who has just been admitted to Mayo hospital.

“He was coughing, he couldn’t breathe well and he had a high temperature. We thought that maybe it was coronavirus and we brought him to the hospital. But the doctors have told us that he has developed pneumonia due to the toxic cloud, ”Hasnain tells AFP.

“It is very worrying,” he admits. “I knew that this contamination could be bad for my health, but I did not know that it could be so bad to end up with my son hospitalized,” he adds.

Teachers are also concerned about their students.

The Badshahi Mosque is shown amid heavy smog conditions in Lahore. (Photo: Arif ALI / AFP)

“Pollution is a problem even within the classroom. We see children with red and irritated eyes, others cough all the time, ”explains Nadia Sarwar, a teacher at a government school, to AFP.

A child with asthma had to stay home for several days because he had attacks all the time, he says.

Across the border, the Indian capital New Delhi closed schools indefinitely due to high levels of pollution.

But Sarwar thinks it’s difficult to do the same in Lahore.

Students have already missed many classes due to the coronavirus and closing schools now would make them “pay for a problem that they have not created.”

“I feel bad for them,” he laments. “In the summer it is too hot for outdoor activities. And in the winter there is pollution and dengue now. What can a child do? Where can it go? ”He wonders.

People move on the smoggy road in Lahore, Pakistan.  (EFE / EPA / RAHAT DAR).
People move on the smoggy road in Lahore, Pakistan. (EFE / EPA / RAHAT DAR).

“Nobody cares”

Adults have a hard time too. Rana Bibi, a mother of three who works as a cleaner, wears her shawl as a face mask while waiting for a pedicab to get home.

“The smoke hurts my eyes and my throat. That’s why I cover my face like this. First they forced us to do it because of the coronavirus, now I do it for myself, “she explains.

“When I come home, I always smell like smoke. My clothes, my hair, my hands are dirty. But what can be done? I can’t sit at home. I’ve gotten used to it, ”he argues.

Some of the houses where he works “have these machines to clean the air. I do not know. That’s what they tell me. But here there is smoke everywhere ”.

Commuters make their way along a highway amid heavy smog conditions in Lahore on November 19, 2021. (Photo: Arif ALI / AFP).
Commuters make their way along a highway amid heavy smog conditions in Lahore on November 19, 2021. (Photo: Arif ALI / AFP).

In recent years, residents have built home air purifiers and filed lawsuits against the government in desperate attempts to clean the air.

But the authorities are slow to act, holding India responsible for the contamination or claiming that the data is exaggerated.

“Every year we read in the news that Lahore is the most polluted city in the world or that it has had the worst toxic cloud in the world. But nothing happens. Nobody cares, ”protests Saira Aslam, who works in the human resources department of a technology company.

Commuters make their way along a highway amid heavy smog conditions in Lahore on November 19, 2021. (Photo: Arif ALI / AFP).
Commuters make their way along a highway amid heavy smog conditions in Lahore on November 19, 2021. (Photo: Arif ALI / AFP).

The 27-year-old is angry. “The government ran away last year because we were all sitting at home equally due to the lockdown. But they cannot continue to act as if nothing is wrong, ”he adds.

“I have older people at home who are literally at risk from the pollution cloud. It is a health hazard and must be treated as such ”, he insists.

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