Lahore’s climate crisis

By Memoona Qazi
Published in The News on July 18, 2022

High-rise buildings, overhead bridges, underpasses, billboards, and the air engulfed in smoke and dust – welcome to the city of Lahore!

Home to around 11 million people, with Pakistan’s fertility rate at present – at 3.6 per cent and with continued in-migration towards the city, Lahore’s population is only going to increase further in the coming future.

With the worsening air quality and the hazardous smog levels experienced in the beginning of the year coupled with the unbearable and scorching heat of the summer season and the ongoing spell of monsoon rains posing threats of urban flooding, one only wonders where we are headed.

As someone born and raised in Lahore, it is most disheartening for me to see how the city is losing its magic little by little with each passing year. A little too preoccupied in enjoying our city life, taking pride in the fact that Lahore is the most vibrant city to live in, we have perhaps ignored our environment a little too much. As a result, today’s Lahore is a concrete jungle with skyscrapers, shopping complexes and housing societies being built around every corner of the city.

It is even ironic at times when one comes across the advertisements of these housing societies, flaunting claims of a ‘new living experience’ offering a cleaner, fresher environment when their very execution and planning is hinged upon cutting of trees and clearing green land areas. While the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) has somewhat kept tabs on issuing notices to illegal housing societies, I wonder if the criteria for legality has anything to do with the protection and planting of trees?

The outskirts of the city – once full of trees and green lands – are now another show of ring roads, bridges and high-rise apartment buildings from these various housing schemes. The authorities too have shown a lack of commitment towards safeguarding and protecting the environment and perhaps our elite is a little too lost in their investment prospects and profit-making schemes to worry about the environment we live in.

While the smog crisis in the beginning of the year was enough to serve as an eye-opener to understand the environmental crisis that we face today, the destruction caused by urban flooding in Karachi should definitely serve as one before its too late. It is rather unfortunate to see that even some of the most posh and developed localities in Lahore like Gulberg and DHA are badly affected by a few hours of rain, with main roads full of stagnant rainwater hours after rain has even stopped. It may be a hard pill to swallow for all the concerned stakeholders – be it proprietors and/or politicians – that the onus of this destruction befalls their shoulders, but it is definitely one issue which cannot escape the public eye anymore.

It is time we realize the damage being incurred on our environment – and ultimately on our lives – and break out of this bubble of neglect before it’s too late. Here’s a quick recap of how the different seasons have gone by for a resident of Lahore so far: the much-awaited winter season this year brought along its own sets of difficulties with unprecedented smog levels making it difficult to breathe. Experiencing the spring season seems to be another distant dream now, as the onset of March this year brought with it the alarm bells of an early summer skipping spring altogether. Similarly, the unbearable heat of summer season saw temperatures rising to as high as 48 degrees in Lahore and with the looming threats of urban flooding we face currently, one can only wonder what the future has in store for us.

Let us only hope that those who have won yesterday’s by-elections will uphold their vows of serving the public and do serve the public this time; here’s an idea, for starters, how about the winning electoral candidates cater to the drainage systems of their localities and help us combat the current threat of flooding looming upon us? Addressing the issue of deforestation and stripping of green lands in the name of building housing societies in Lahore to accommodate the growing population should be another urgent concern of the authorities.

More importantly, a concerted effort is required to bring down the fertility rate of the country itself and discourage internal migration towards Lahore by creating employment opportunities in other cities.

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