Transboundary Winter Fog in Pakistan: causes, concerns and options
Ahmad Saeed, IUCN The World Conservation Union, Pakistan
Transboundary movement of pollutants has become an increasingly serious issue due to rapid industrial development. The problem is quite palpable in Punjab, Pakistan, where severe winter fogs cause life to come to a grinding halt. Remote sensing satellite data shows fog covering an area approximately 1,500km long extending from eastern India to northwestern Punjab. On December 16, 1998, the mean daily visibility in New Delhi was about 100m, while in Lahore (approximately 450km away) it was only a few hundred meters. Study has shown that the fog episode is quite severe for two weeks in December and January, causing extensive economic loss and creating hazardous conditions for air and road traffic, human health and agriculture in Pakistan.

A four year study (1997-2000) conducted by SUPARCO (Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission) determined concentrations of sulfates, nitrates and selected trace elements (Cr, Fe, Zn, As, Se, Sb) at Lahore and Islamabad during and after fog through aerosol analysis. Excessively high sulfate concentrations, varying from 49.8 to 98.9 fg/m3 were found. Sulfate and selenium ratios (SO4-2/Se) and 925mb wind data suggested a distant sulfate source. Since northeastern Pakistani cities lie downwind to coal burning industries in India, they receive heavy loads of sulfur dioxide (the main fog constituent), and are hence cut off from the rest of the country.

The fog episode was severe and of longer duration in 2002-03, practically bringing life to halt in eastern and central Punjab (Pakistan). Persistent drought in the region (1997-2001) was cited as the main reason. Further investigations on economic and health impacts are underway.

The paper will discuss issues arising from transboundary movement of pollutants and steps required for minimizing future incidents. Improved implementation of international conventions/agreements (e.g. Male Declaration, treaty between affected parties) to address the issue will also be discussed.

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