Lahore is Losing its Green Cover Fast, Contributing to Warming, Pollution and Smog

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BE2C2 Report (Nov 6, 2018): Uncontrolled and unplanned urban expansion has taken its toll on Lahore’s historic tree line and contributing to warming of temperature, pollution and smog.

A very business oriented approach to urban planning which is based not on a long-term plan but rather a project based approach was and is being taken, says Rabia Ezdi, an Associate Professor at the Department of Architecture of the National College of Arts (NCA).

“Land is the new gold,” she says, as real estate developers race to fill the supply gap–Pakistan has a 10m housing shortage, and expected to double by 2030.

According to Ms. Rabia, the unplanned urban sprawl of the city has little to do with urbanization or population growth. “These housing societies simply cater to the upper-class and don’t do anything to solve problems related to urbanization or population growth and neither do they have anything to do with either of these phenomenon,” she says.

Lahore Air Quality Index: Nov 6, 2018

Hammad Gilani, a remote sensing analyst, and his student Adeel Ahmad pulled freely available Landsat satellite images to assess the changes. The data looks at tree cover, greenery and built area from the years 1990 to 2017. It clearly shows that the depletion of green cover in the past 7 years (2010 – 2017) has been more than the two decades before (1990 – 2010).

Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General WWF Pakistan, chalks this massive loss in tree cover also to bad urban planning.

One recurring issue that Khan points to is the poor quality of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports.

“They don’t prepare it beforehand and don’t use the EIA as a planning tool but treat it as a formality when civil society and other organizations raise concerns about them,” says Khan.

He also points to the fact that most of the time EIA reports are prepared by the very company carrying out the project–civil society representatives have questioned and been questioning the process of preparing an EIA report–normally done by an independent outfit to avoid conflict of interest. On the project for the building the Orange Line Metro Bus in Lahore and the Metro bus along Ferozepur roads, the reports were considered inadequate, Khan says.

The larger issue here that Khan points to is poor urban planning. This is echoed in the opinions of other experts on the issue and the amended version of Lahore Master Plan itself. A lot of the mega development projects part of the city now, such as signal free corridors, road widening, rapid bus and rail systems were not part of the Lahore Master Plan 2021.

“Moreover, the enforcement agencies had also not been able to implement the said plans, and Lahore has now taken an unforeseen geographical shape. Lahore was expected to grow towards the southern direction (between Multan Road and Ferozpur Road) up till Raiwind, and the area beyond Ferozpur Road in the east was declared as Agriculture Area, and development was prohibited in this direction. However, in contradiction to the anticipation of these plans, more urban growth has been observed in the eastern direction across Ferozpur Road (in frozen/ prohibited area) during recent years.”

Critics have disagreed with the government’s development plans and idea of a what a city should look like, centering around models that do not require reducing vegetation and tree cover.

One study published in the Pakistan Journal of Meteorology in 2015 uses GIS imaging to understand how land use/land cover impacts land surface temperature. The study focuses on Lahore district, like Gilani’s satellite images. What the authors find is that “Lahore has witnessed rapid urban sprawl. The built-up surface area (High Density Built-up + Low Density Builtup LULC) within the city district in 2011 turned out to be 25% larger  than what it was in 2000.”

The high-density and low density built up areas in simple terms are the urban centers of the city with more buildings in a given space than suburban areas, outside the city, with less buildings in a given space. They also found that the overall temperature of Lahore had increased by 0.73°C. In 2000 the temperature has been 32.71°C while in 2011 it turns out to be 33.44°C during summer time.

Rabia points out that the rise in Lahore temperature is also attributed to a loss of tree cover – the urban heat island being one of them. The idea is that paved areas like concrete and roads absorb heat and retain, increasing the entire temperature of cities.

Allowing green areas to flourish, increasing green spaces within cities, and even having areas within cities which allow rain water to replenish groundwater sources are important to prepare Lahore for the ultimate challenge of global warming. Last year, the country recorded one of its hottest summers and with heatwaves and temperatures already soaring to 42°C, it is hard to deny that Lahore is also heating up. There is also a threat of the city losing its ground water source by 2040.

Another study conducted in Lahore points to trees as a solution to not only counter rise in temperature but also combat pollutants.

Various government policies, such as the Clean Air Policy produced by the Environment Protection Department of Punjab put forward trees as one way of countering smog. According to data released by Pakistan Air Quality Initiative (PAQI), the provincial capital recorded only two days of good air quality in 2017.

The original article appeared in MIT Technology Review

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