Punjab schools get three-day weekend due to smog, private offices to close two days a week

Children walk to school amid heavy smog conditions in Lahore on December 1, 2022. (Photo courtesy: AFP)
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Updated 07 December 2022

Punjab schools get three-day weekend due to smog, private offices to close two days a week

  • Lahore regularly ranks at top of IQAir AirVisual’s live pollution rankings of major global cities
  • As of November 2019, Pakistani authorities still don’t publish real-time PM2.5 air quality data

ISLAMABAD: Amid ‘calamitous’ levels of smog in Punjab province, the government has announced the closure of schools three days a week and of private offices two days a week, the provincial administration said in separate notifications on Wednesday.

The latest ranking showed the PM2.5 concentration in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, at 36.9 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value. PM2.5 is lung-damaging particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns.

Lahore, which is frequently described as the cultural capital of Pakistan, faces heavy smog in the winter months as farmers burn the stubble of harvested crops before planting new ones.

“It is notified that owing to prevailing SMOG condition, all Public & Private Schools in District Lahore shall remain closed on every Friday & Saturday, in addition to the weekly holiday on Sunday till further orders,” a notification released by the provincial education department said.

A separate notification by the Punjab Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said private businesses would remain closed two days a week in favor of “work from home.”

The Lahore High Court had on Tuesday ordered the government to notify the closure of schools in the provincial capital for at least three days a week and of private offices two days a week. Justice Shahid Karim of the LHC passed the order while hearing public interest petitions.

Punjab chief minister, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, has described the smog situation as a “calamity” and instructed the environmental protection department to address its causes. He also announced his administration’s decision to act against farmers who burn crop stubble, which is an illegal practice in the province.

Lahore suffers from high levels of air pollution, with the city regularly ranking at the top of IQAir AirVisual’s live pollution rankings of major global cities. However, pollution only became a public issue in early 2017, when actionable air quality data was published for the first time in Pakistan.

In the absence of publicly available government data, a network of citizen-operated sensors began to monitor PM2.5 and report data in real-time. The data laid bare Lahore’s high levels of air pollution, shocking the public and becoming a media talking point for the first time.

The resulting publicity led to a public interest petition to review the government’s response to the smog crisis, which was heard at the Lahore High Court in November 2017. The court ordered authorities to prepare an updated smog response action plan, and publish daily pollution updates until it was able to publish hourly updates, as the non-government monitors do.

Following the court order, the Punjab Environment Protection Council approved a Smog Action Plan and adopted an Air Quality Index (AQI) classification system in 2017. However, the AQI has been criticized by air quality advocates as being too lax and underreporting the severity of the pollution.

As of November 2019, Pakistani authorities still don’t publish any real-time PM2.5 air quality data. All data come from non-government sensors and the US State Department. The US Embassy in Islamabad, and the three US Consulates in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar began monitoring and publishing real-time PM2.5 data online in the first half of 2019.

Air quality in Lahore usually worsens during the winter season from October to February when farmers in the wider Punjab province set light to the remnants of crops, producing smoke that adds to smog. At the same time, weather changes mean pollutants remain trapped in the air for longer.

Air pollution in Lahore is also caused by a combination of vehicle and industrial emissions, smoke from brick kilns, the burning of crop residue and general waste, and dust from construction sites. Other factors of air pollution include large scale losses of trees to build new roads and buildings.

Winter air pollution is worse due to temperature inversion, which results in a layer of warm air that is prevented from rising trapping air pollutants.


Pakistan’s human rights record examined by UNHRC in Geneva

Updated 12 sec ago

Pakistan’s human rights record examined by UNHRC in Geneva

  • State minister Hina Rabbani Khar presents Pakistan’s human rights record at Human Rights Council in Geneva
  • UN member states urge Pakistan to abolish the death penalty, suspend its use and end early child marriages

ISLAMABAD: The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Monday examined Pakistan’s human rights record, with the country’s state minister for foreign affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar saying Pakistan’s human rights record is “overall on an upward trajectory.”

The UNHRC conducts a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the human rights record of all UN member states. In it, each state is provided the opportunity to declare actions they have taken to improve the human rights situation in their countries and fulfill human rights obligations. 

“Mr. President, today I am pleased to report that my country’s human rights progress is overall on an upward trajectory,” Khar told the 42nd UPR review in Geneva. “We continue to aspire for a pluralistic and progressive society, which puts a high premium on the respect of human rights for everyone.”

Khar said Pakistan is proud of a “vibrant civil society, with our independent judiciary and legal community.” She said Pakistan had enacted the Anti-Rape Act 2021 and established courts against gender-based violence against women. 

She mentioned how devastating floods in 2022 affected 33 million people and left thousands dead and injured. Khar said an astounding 8 million people had been displaced by the deluges while over 2 million houses had been either damaged or destroyed. 

Khar said Pakistan was taking due care of the rights of minorities in the country. “Individuals belonging to various religions are equal citizens of Pakistan and as a responsible state, we are fully committed to protecting and promoting their fundamental rights and freedoms,” she added. 

She said Pakistan has taken safeguards against the misuse of the blasphemy law in the country, citing Section 211 of the Pakistan Penal Code which calls for action against any person who falsely accuses another person of blasphemy.

In response, UN member states urged Pakistan to enact a bill criminalizing rape and enact the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act. Member states also urged the country to reinstate the national commission on human rights and abolish the death penalty and suspend its use. 

They also called on Pakistan to make further efforts to end enforced and early (child) marriage and increase the legal age of marriage to 18. 


KSRelief distributes food aid in Pakistan, Lebanon and Niger

Updated 31 min 48 sec ago

KSRelief distributes food aid in Pakistan, Lebanon and Niger

  • The Saudi charity distributed 1,960 food packages for 13,720 Pakistanis in Sindh
  • KSRelief also distributed 3,125 food parcels in Niger and Lebanon's refugee camps

RIYADH: King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) distributed food aid to floods victims in Sindh Province, Pakistan.

The Saudi charity distributed 1,960 food packages, benefiting 13,720 people.

Elsewhere, KSRelief also distributed  3,025 food parcels to Syrian and Palestinian refugees in several Lebanese regions, benefiting 15,125 people.

In Niger, 100 food packages were also distributed, benefiting 768 people.

KSRelief also carried out a project to empower young people to improve the living conditions in Al-Mahrah Governorate, Yemen.

A total of 1,250 young people in eight governorates have benefited from the projects through vocational courses in 11 fields.


Ex-president sends legal notice to Imran Khan over 'fabricated' assassination allegations

Updated 30 January 2023

Ex-president sends legal notice to Imran Khan over 'fabricated' assassination allegations

  • Ex-president Asif Ali Zardari sends Rs10 billion legal notice to Imran Khan for 'scandalous' allegations
  • In televised address last week, Khan accused Zardari of devising a plan to assassinate him

ISLAMABAD: Ex-Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari sent a legal notice to former prime minister Imran Khan on Monday for making “fabricated, scandalous” allegations against the former of hatching a plot to assassinate him.

Zardari, Khan’s political rival and leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), served as Pakistan’s president from 2008 to 2013. Tensions between the two escalated last week when Khan, during a televised address, told his supporters Zardari had devised a plan “behind closed doors” to have him assassinated. 

Khan also maintained that Zardari was guilty of accumulating ill-gotten wealth and had paid “a terrorist group” to assassinate him. The allegations have been vehemently denied by PPP and Zardari.

Ousted via a parliamentary vote of confidence in April last year, Khan received gunshot wounds during an anti-government rally in Pakistan’s Wazirabad city in November 2022. He blamed Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, and a senior intelligence official for orchestrating the attack, without providing proof. The military and government both strongly rejected Khan’s allegations. 

On Monday, Zardari’s legal representative Farooq H. Naek sent an Rs10 billion notice to Khan for making “false, fabricated and scandalous remarks/statements” against the former president. “That through your baseless accusations of malicious and defamatory nature you have tried to defame our client nationally as well as internationally,” the notice read. 

The notice said Khan had tried to create a link between Zardari and militant organizations, reminding him that the former president’s wife, Pakistan’s first woman prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was also assassinated by militants. 

It said that while Khan had accused Zardari of accumulating wealth through ill-gotten means, the PPP leader had spent almost eight years in prison on “false, fabricated, trumped up and concocted cases” that were never proven against him. 

“You, through your malicious accusations have injured and defamed our client with ulterior motives to get undue benefit in current political situation of the country,” it said. 

Zardari demanded an unconditional apology from Khan within 14 days, stating that if Khan doesn’t comply, he would be compelled to take legal action against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman. The notice said Zardari would initiate legal proceedings against Khan in “the competent Courts of law and forums of Pakistan as well as of England, including but not limited to Suit for Damages for Rs.10,000,000,000/.”

The former prime minister has so far not responded to Zardari’s legal notice. 


At least 17 killed, dozens injured in blast targeting mosque in Pakistan’s Peshawar — officials

Updated 17 min 7 sec ago

At least 17 killed, dozens injured in blast targeting mosque in Pakistan’s Peshawar — officials

  • The explosion occurred when worshippers were offering prayers inside the Police Lines mosque 
  • Lady Reading Hospital management urges Peshawar residents to donate blood for the wounded 

ISLAMABAD: At least 17 people were killed and dozens of others injured after a blast targeted a mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, officials said on Monday, fearing an increase in the number of casualties. 

The blast occurred inside the mosque at the Police Lines in Peshawar’s sensitive Red Zone area, according to Faizan Khan, a spokesman for Rescue 1122 service. Pakistan’s Geo News channel reported. 

The incident took place at a time when a large number of worshippers were offering prayers inside the mosque. The injured persons were being shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH). 

“So far 17 dead bodies and more than 60 injured persons have been brought to the hospital,” Muhammad Asim, an LRH spokesman, told reporters in Peshawar. 

The LRH management has imposed an emergency at the hospital and requested citizens to donate blood as a large number of wounded persons were under treatment at the hospital. 

Akbar Khan, an official of the Edhi Foundation rescue service, said the blast was so powerful that it brought down the roof of the mosque. 

“Most of the people are trapped under the rubble and the number of casualties could increase,” he said. 

Television footage showed several ambulances rushing to the site of the explosion, the exact nature of which has yet to be ascertained. 

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the blast, but the Pakistani Taliban have previously claimed such attacks in Pakistan’s northwest. 

Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province has witnessed an uptick in militant attacks in recent months, particularly after the Pakistani Taliban ended their months-long cease-fire with the government in Islamabad in November last year. 

The group has waged an insurgency in Pakistan over the past one and a half decade, fighting for stricter enforcement of Islamic laws in the country, the release of their members in government custody, and a reduction of Pakistani military presence in the country’s former tribal regions. 


US envoy on Afghanistan to discuss women’s rights during Pakistan visit

Updated 30 min 26 sec ago

US envoy on Afghanistan to discuss women’s rights during Pakistan visit

  • US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West to visit Pakistan, Germany, Switzerland from January 29 to February 4
  • West says will work with counterparts to ‘refine a unified regional and international response’ for women’s rights and access to aid 

Islamabad: US Special Representative for Afghanistan, Thomas West, announced on Monday he would be visiting Pakistan, Germany, and Switzerland from January 20 to February 4 to seek a “unified regional and international response” for women’s rights and access to aid in Afghanistan. 

Ever since seizing control of Kabul in August 2021, the Taliban have issued edicts that have restricted women from seeking education and employment in the country. 

In December 2022, the Taliban government banned women from working in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the pretext that female staff of NGOs had violated the dress code by not wearing hijab. The Taliban have also prevented women from entering parks and gyms, among other public places, in the country.

A couple of days before that, the Taliban banned women from attending universities and secondary schools across the country. The move sparked international outrage with Washington, United Nations, and several other countries including Pakistan, criticizing the move. 

“I will travel to Pakistan, Germany, and Switzerland Jan 29-Feb 4 to consult with partners, Afghans, and humanitarian relief organizations regarding extraordinary challenges we face in supporting the Afghan people,” West wrote on Twitter. 

West said that the Taliban’s recent decisions have posed “extraordinary challenges” for the international community as it seeks to support the Afghan people. 

“SRA West will work with counterparts to refine a unified regional and international response that reflects a collective commitment to Afghan women and girls’ rights and access to vital aid,” the US State Department website added. 

While Pakistan has expressed “disappointment” over Afghanistan’s edicts concerning women, it has called on the world to engage with the Taliban government rather than shun ties with it altogether. Islamabad has also called on the world to provide humanitarian aid to Kabul to stave off an imminent economic collapse of the country.