Toxic grey haze is taking its toll on health and civic life in at least 10 districts of Punjab. The smog, a frequent phenomenon with the dawn of winter in South Asia, is primarily due to a man-made disaster. And the enigma is that it is farmers in India’s East Punjab that are responsible for this environmental mess. Paddy straw burning by farmers in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, roughly to the tune of 35 million tonnes, is at the heart of a climatic downturn. With schools closed for days and weeks on the Pakistani side in Punjab, and breathing problems all over in the province, the situation is compounded with messy accidents, to count the least on its fallback.
This points out a perfect climate change issue, and cannot be left in limbo. The question is what cooperation can come into being to address many such environmental discords of which the twin-liberated countries from colonialism are part of? Melting of glaciers on the Himalayas, warming of oceans, water flow irritations owing to riverbed issues and last but not least the irritating smog are issues that cannot withstand the test of political rivalry. They are in need of being scientifically addressed, in order to assure that 1.5 billion people of both the countries are relieved of environmental traumas.
A study by USIP says that smog in the chill weather kills an estimated 1.2 million Indians and 128,000 Pakistanis annually. This is a staggering toll, and must be addressed in all civility on a war-footing basis. More than a dozen cities are most air-polluted in both the countries. While India has five times more yield per acre, its harvest strategy is pinching Pakistan as it prefers a delay in the rice-growing season to save water. This agri-experts say farmers act to quickly clear their fields for winter wheat by burning vast acreages of rice stubble of their harvest. Can’t this puzzle be addressed by sharing notes on water and cultivation mechanisms? They can, if there is a will to do it!
Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2023.