ISLAMABAD: Smog is causing chaos in the Pakistani province of Punjab close to the Indian border, in particular the densely populated provincial capital, Lahore.
Traffic accidents, flight delays, health hazards, and power failures have been reported across the province.
Chashma nuclear power plant units C1, C2, C3 and C4 have shut down, along with other power production units. Specialists are working to restore the systems and expect the plants to be at full capacity within a few days.
One commuter told Arab News on Saturday that there was “almost zero visibility” on the highway between Islamabad and Lahore. Authorities prohibited heavy vehicles from using that highway on Saturday.
Dozens of accidents resulting in serious injuries and deaths have been reported around Punjab. And a number of flights have been cancelled in the province’s major cities.
“The air in the outskirts of Lahore is very bad,” Lahore resident Adnan Khan told Arab News. “But this is nothing new for us. We go through this phase usually at this time of the year when the temperature starts to drop. It’s the open fields where the density of smog is greater and drifting in towards the city and roads.”
The government has ordered the closure of all oil-based power plants to reduce the smog’s environmental impact. Reports indicate that the region is relying on hydroelectric generation as its primary source of electrical power. This has caused a drop of 7000 megawatts from the distribution grid, as several power plants are offline.
Faheem Khokhar, a professor at the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, told Arab News there is no reason to panic about the nuclear shutdown. “The tripping is likely due to safety reasons,” he said. “Our nuclear plants are secure enough.”
Khohkar says there is no current data on smog levels in Pakistan but he estimated that the “scale is quite high.”
According to local media reports, the Environment Protection Department (EPD) says the smog has been caused by emissions from nine nearby thermal power plants in India, and by Indian farmers setting leftover crops on fire after the harvest.
EPD officials speaking to Geo News on Friday noted that the smog was affecting the Indian cities of New Delhi, Amritsar, and Ambala as well.
The officials urged the Pakistani government to engage Indian authorities over the issue immediately.
A local TV network reported on Friday that the Punjab environment minister blames India for triggering the smog by burning some 35 million tons of waste.