Ali Jabir Malik
After the plains of Punjab and Sindh, the spell of thick fog also shrouded the scenic federal capital suburbs as the temperature declined due to heavy winter rains and snowfall in its adjoining hill station of Murree.
Although it was a rare phenomenon a decade ago, yet recent rapid construction and vehicular and industrial emissions both fog and smog were witnessed in this beautiful and environment-friendly city resting along the foothills of Himalaya.
Meteorological experts also see it as an outcome of cold wave as well as rising emissions as suspended particulate matters thicken the normal air atmosphere turning it into thick fog or smog.
“Generally we do not see fog in the capital like plain areas of Punjab. Fog seen on Tuesday was due to cold wave,” said Chief Meteorologist Muhammad Riaz.
“In plain areas soil moisture is much more than the capital’s soil that creates thick fog with poor visibility.”
When asked about foggy and misty weather in the capital a few days back, he said, it was smog as it had mixing of particulate matters.
“Vehicular and other emissions were gradually polluting capital’s environment. If we did not take timely measures, capital would also be a polluted city like others.”
Head of Department of Environmental Sciences at NUST, Professor Dr Muhammad Fahim Kokhar says that fog occurs when aerosols or cloud condensation nuclei and condensed gaseous combine with over 75% humidity and relatively low temperature. And if there is concentration of pollutants in the air, fog turns into smog.
“The process of fog permeates into the atmosphere during low sun elevation that turns the environment conducive for aerosols to get dew point temperature transforming the cold ambience into a smoky and hazy air,” he said.
The average temperature in Islamabad throughout the week remained below 10°C on average whereas humidity remained above 90% during the past week due to continuous rain and snowfall.
Environmental Quality Standards expert and Director Labs at Pak-EPA Dr Mohsina Zubair said increasing vehicular emissions, dust and smoke particles in the air ambience in recent years was resulting in fog in the capital.
“Fog and smog have peculiar traits and are distinctive in nature as the latter has a different soot feeling like that of a combustible material of affluence,” she said.
“Bulging size of road traffic was a matter of concern in terms of deteriorating ambience that may result in smog in coming years.”
The Islamabad Excise and Taxation office data reveals that more than 1.3 million vehicles are registered with it as the number is increasing with every passing day.
Moreover, according to Islamabad Traffic Police an average around 35,000 vehicles of various categories enter into the metropolis on daily basis adding to emissions, dust and smoke particles in the atmosphere.
Interestingly, the foggy weather turned more enjoyable when social media sites received an overwhelming response by its users who shared picturesque images of the tallest Centaurs Mall and other buildings on the Constitution Avenue engulfed with fog. But, they are least aware that if this phenomenon aggravates, it would have serious health hazards.
“Usually the fog has less lethal or detrimental impact on human health. However when it assimilates with high level of air pollutants it becomes injurious for human health,” Dr Fahim Khokhar said.
Dr Khokhar has advised the citizens to avoid prolonged outdoor exertions during increased air pollution and use masks to avoid pollutants.
Prior to recent wet spell, the PM2.5 contamination had reached 145.76 microgram per cubic meter making environment unhealthy for children and people suffering from lungs and heart diseases. Normal PM2.5 contamination as per National Environment Quality Standards has been set at 35 micrograms per cubic meter.
In presence of pollen allergy component in capital’s atmosphere, air pollution becomes more hazardous during the pollen season increasing risk of contracting respiratory diseases.
Commenting on this situation, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam has said that fog is a natural phenomenon mainly derived by decrease in temperature and increase in humidity.
“The recent spell of fog has occurred mainly due to extraordinary snowfall in Murree and Galiat that directly impacted the weather of Islamabad.”
He mentioned that smog is mainly in the areas with overwhelming industrial, brick kilns and vehicular emissions. “In Islamabad, we are having a vigilant eye on such emissions.”
To ensure cleaner environment in the capital, he said, the government is installing air quality monitors to check vehicular and industrial emissions. “Instead of checking smoke emitting vehicles, we are also introducing regulations for dry scrubbers (Reverse Back Technology) at industrial units especially the steel industry.”
“This technology would help industries convert the hazardous dark carbon into a byproduct,” Amin Aslam said as he also mentioned to check solid waste burning in open as well as ensure cleanliness of the capital city.
With the rising human and vehicular population in the city, the coming days would be more challenging for the authorities to maintain cleaner environment and beauty of this one of the most beautiful capitals in the world.