Pathways of pollution

November 25,2017

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Once famous for its scenic gardens, historic monuments and buildings that manifested a unique cultural heritage, Lahore has now become one of the most polluted cities of the world and is unsafe for human existence.
This is mainly due to ever-increasing industrialisation and commercial activities. A large number of industries are now found in residential areas and has, therefore, caused many negative externalities for the residents of the city.
In recent years, the high concentration of the noxious particles of sulphur, nitrogen and carbon has been found in the air around the city. As a result, a thick layer of smog hovers over Lahore’s skyline. The ‘airpocalypse’ surrounding the capital of Punjab has crossed all the global benchmarks. It has become difficult for people to survive.
Lahore is home to various industries that operate across the city. A majority of these industries are situated in Kot Lakhpat, the walled city’s industrial and commercial zone, the residential areas of Ichhra, Mughalpura, Shad Bagh, Ferozpur Road and Bund Road. The emerging trend of establishing light and heavy industrial zones within residential areas with little or no compliance with environmental laws and policies is the major cause of air pollution.
According to an industrial inventory of Punjab, around 2,107 industrial zones have been set up and are operating in the residential localities of the northern areas of Lahore. This has posed a serious threat to the quality of human development and the environment. This is primarily because industries that are set up in the residential areas are likely to find cheap labour easily and their owners can evade higher municipal taxes. Second, it’s costly to rent or construct a building in industrial zones. Third, the owners of these industries fear losing their valued customers if they relocate their plants as many of them have developed a strong reputation over time.
It is evident from history that the environment has not been a priority for the government and policymakers. The past policies of the government supported industrial growth in the country without accounting for environmental considerations. Scant attention has been paid towards managing these industries. As a result, the adverse impacts of industrialisation have become evident.
Before 1980, all development policies were formulated without accounting for environmental matters. It was in 1983 that the first Environmental Protection Ordinance was passed. This ordinance provided the legal basis to establish and enforce eco-friendly standards, encourage environmental policymaking and include environmental considerations in development policies. However, weak enforcement, a low-monitoring capacity and an ineffective system of management has failed to regulate unsustainable development.
Furthermore, the increase in the population of cities through urbanisation has not kept pace with urban activities as well as the infrastructure for industrial development. The arbitrary and unplanned business development in residential neighbourhoods is mainly an outcome of undesignated commercial and industrial areas and a weak monitoring mechanism. The socioeconomic position of residents depends also on the ability of the planning authority to ensure that industries are not built in residential areas. The ineffective land-use planning regime suffers from considerable overlap, a stiff competition between agencies and a lack of cooperation from other agencies.
These obstacles are compounded by the fact that developers enjoy immunity from the enforcement of controls while industrialists have a poor understanding of efforts to reduce pollution. These circumstances indicate the need for both systematic and facilitative approaches to regulation and enforcement.
In addition to persistent air pollution, the unregulated growth of industries has posed serious challenges, such as congestion, pollution, sanitation problems, acute health issues and hazardous industrial accidents.
Various studies have been conducted to assess the effects of harmful industries. As a result, a threshold distance of between 3 kilometres to 20 kilometres has been established between residential areas and industrial sites. Similarly, a number of international housing policies stipulate that the distance between residential areas and industrial areas must be greater than 2km.
There is no denying the fact that Pakistan’s industrial sector is the cornerstone of its economy since it contributes almost 18.2 percent of the total GDP. However, the random and haphazard industrial growth in residential areas of major cities is proving to be detrimental to the environment and local population. The need of the hour is to fine industries that emit toxic chemicals and devise an alternative solution through the introduction of more environmentally-friendly methods of production.

The writer is pursuing an MPhil in development studies at the Lahore School of Economics.

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