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This megacity is the latest to shut down as pollution chokes swathes of South Asia

Naqvi's administration has also imposed limitations on gatherings of more than four individuals in a single location.

The surge in pollution in Pakistan follows a similar occurrence in neighboring India, where smog enveloped its capital, New Delhi, last week. Colder temperatures trapped pollution particles, forming a hazardous haze.

Traditionally, towards the end of the year, after the winter harvest, millions of farmers burn leftover rice stubble to prepare for the upcoming wheat crop. This, coupled with vehicular and industrial pollution, has led to substantial smog in northern Indian states such as Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and New Delhi.

India's Supreme Court recently directed authorities in states surrounding New Delhi to prevent farmers from burning residual crops. Additionally, the court banned nationwide use of firecrackers ahead of the Diwali festival this weekend.

Despite such court orders in the past, their impact has been minimal. Other major Indian cities, including Kolkata and Mumbai, were also listed among the world's 20 most polluted cities by IQAir this week, with pollution levels fluctuating between "hazardous" and "unhealthy."

Local authorities have rushed to implement measures to alleviate pollution, including restricting vehicles, sprinkling water on pavements, and prohibiting non-essential construction to reduce dust.

Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital with a population exceeding 10 million, also appeared on IQAir's list of most polluted cities, registering an AQI of 222 on Friday, categorized as "very unhealthy."

The PM2.5 levels in all these cities far surpass the World Health Organization's limits, highlighting a growing concern for South Asian countries undergoing rapid industrialization and population growth, contributing to elevated pollution levels.

PM 2.5 particles, consisting of pollutants like sulfates, nitrates, and black carbon, can impair cognitive and immune functions, and are linked to lung and heart disorders.

Despite longstanding calls from environmental groups and policymakers for more effective solutions to manage population growth, current measures such as transport restrictions and construction halts are viewed as inadequate in the long run.

The deteriorating air quality is already evident in some parts of India. According to a 2021 study by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), poor air quality could reduce the life expectancy of Delhi residents by up to nine years. The study also revealed that every one of India's 1.4 billion residents experiences annual average pollution levels exceeding guidelines set by the World Health Organization.

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Doctors in the Indian capital report an uptick in pollution-related illnesses, with patients presenting symptoms such as cough, throat irritation, shortness of breath, and skin problems, among others.

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