ISLAMABAD (AP) — Heavy smog loaded with pollutants has covered several urban and rural areas in eastern Pakistan, prompting breathing problems, and causing more than 20 deaths in traffic accidents caused by poor visibility on highways, officials and a senior meteorologist said.
Several cities in Punjab province, including the provincial capital Lahore, have been engulfed in haze since earlier this week. Meteorologist Mohammad Hanid told The Associated Press that the smog is "very unusual and it contains toxic air."
He said the smog has caused irritation in residents' eyes and an increase in respiratory-related health problems.
With scores of residents reporting respiratory problems and irritated eyes, doctors are advising residents to try to stay indoors and wear facemasks outside.
Similar problems have been reported in the Indian capital of New Delhi, about 427 kilometers (265 miles) southwest of Lahore. The city is normally beset by chronic air pollution, but according to one advocacy group, government data shows that the smog currently enveloping New Delhi is the worst in the last 17 years.
Saba Mumtaz, a medical specialist at Lahore's Shaukat Khanum Cancer hospital, said the smog is particularly dangerous for residents with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma.
Experts say increasing construction dust, burning of garbage, factory emissions and motor vehicle exhausts are all contributing factors to the phenomenon.
Since Monday, more than 20 people have been killed in smog-related traffic accidents in Punjab province. Police have been forced to close several stretches of the main highway that connects Punjab with the capital, Islamabad.
Associated Press writer Muneeza Nazi in New Dehli contributed to this report.