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Dirty old town: tackling air pollution in Karachi

Amar Guriro
·3-min read

This article first appeared on our partner site, Independent Urdu

Given the failure of the provincial government of Sindh in Pakistan to introduce a public transport system in the country’s largest city, Karachi, the majority of residents travel in old and rusty private buses, which are not only an inconvenience to travellers but also a big cause of air pollution.

According to the Air Quality Index, Karachi is among the most polluted cities in the world, along with India’s capital New Delhi, and Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan. According to this index, if polluted particles in the air range from 151 to 200 particulate matters, there is a danger to health. On Tuesday, 301 particulate matters were recorded in Karachi’s air, which indicates a dangerous level of air pollution.

The Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has recently started monitoring vehicles for gas emissions in Karachi and other major cities in the province. SEPA's subsidiary, the Vehicular Emission Control Programme, checks vehicles with state-of-the-art gas emission monitoring devices.

According to the deputy director of the programme, Sada Bakhsh Dars, congestion is another major cause of air pollution in Karachi along with the large number of factories that operate in the city.

Speaking to Independent Urdu, Mr Dars said that with the assistance of traffic police, he checks the gas emissions and noise pollution of vehicles daily at various places in Karachi. Up to 35 per cent of vehicles in Karachi are environmentally unfit because the amount of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and other harmful gasses emitted from them is many times higher than the standard.

According to Mr Dars, large trucks and loading vehicles emit the most environmentally harmful gasses along with two-stroke rickshaws, vehicles banned by the government 10 years ago but still found in large numbers in the city.

Work is yet to begin on the Green Line bus project in Karachi, which the federal government announced six years ago. Asad Umar, the Federal Minister for Planning, Development, Reforms and Special Initiatives and a member of the Karachi Committee – set up to oversee major federal government projects in Karachi – said the project is expected to begin in June 2021.

Similarly, following the order of the Supreme Court, Pakistan Railways – the national, state-owned railway company – has partially restored the Karachi Circular Railway, which had not been operating for 21 years. Due to an inadequate public transport system, residents have to travel in privately owned mini buses and these vehicles are not even repaired in order to keep costs low and profits high.

Along with the assistance of traffic police, Sada Bakhsh Dars and his staff stop vehicles in Karachi, install a sensor in the silencer and check the amount of pollutants being emitted. "When the amount of gasses emitted from a vehicle are within the threshold, a green sticker is placed on the vehicle, however those that fail the check are given a red sticker along with a fine and instructed to get the vehicle repaired.”

He further added, “At times, the vehicle owners have a fitness certificate from the Transport Department, but upon inspection the vehicle turns out to be unfit, therefore the procedure of issuing these certificates needs to be changed.”

Translated by Taimur Rehman, Edited and proofread by Tooba Ali & Celine Assaf

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