Money Matters

Smoke on the Water

By Hussain Ahmad Siddiqui
Mon, 04, 17


Economic growth of a country is conversely proportional to environmental degradation, and Pakistan is no exception. In recent years the environmental pollution has increased to alarming levels, exceeding the internationally acceptable figures, and is projected to increase sharply as a result of various coal-based power plants shortly going into commercial operations.

Though legal and regulatory framework for environmental control exists since long, the weak enforcement and ineffective management, compounded with high population growth, has not delivered results, and pollution and environmental degradation continues to grow with every passing day, impacting seriously on human health.

Reports about polluted air, contaminated water and ongoing deforestation in major cities paint a gloomy picture and expose laxity on the part the institutions, lack of political commitment and insensitivity of the society to the issues.

Pakistan therefore faces significant environmental challenges, at present and in future, particularly in the backdrop of the government’s focus on developing coal-based power-generation, motorization, housing and infrastructure sectors, in particular the projects of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), but grossly neglecting the environmental governance. Every year, on April 7, the World Health Day, and, on June 5, the World Environment Day is observed in Pakistan, but without ever taking any concrete and effective measures to address the related issues.

Pollution is the theme for 2017 United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA). In Pakistan, air pollution, water pollution and land pollution are the main causes for environmental pollution, which is costing over Rs 365 billion to national economy every year, according to official figures, and results in as many as 59,000 deaths annually.

According to the Yale Environmental Performance Index 2016, Pakistan ranks 144 out of 180 countries. Pakistan's urban areas are, on average, the world's most polluted. World Health Organization (WHO) had, in 2015, listed Karachi at the 5th, Peshawar at the 6th and Rawalpindi at the 7th positions among the top twenty most-polluted cities the world over.  Last November, Lahore had observed the worst smog in history, almost paralyzing the civic and trade activities for weeks.

Sadly, environment has not been on the government’s priority plans. A World Bank report ‘Cleaning Pakistan’s Air’ published in 2014 had urged the government to make urban air quality improvement a priority in the national policy agenda, but to no avail. Today, Pakistan has become the fourth most air-polluted country, estimates the WHO.

Lack of commitment from the government to tackle environment challenges is reflected in the fact that the share of expenditure on environment improvement remains hardly 0.04 per cent of total public sector development program in any year. Thus, the environmental plans, programs and projects are not adequately funded by the government.

The current social and environmental indicators and other related figures are horrific and mind-boggling. Pakistan’s carbon emissions are increasing manifold on year-on-year basis, currently estimated as 405 million tons that are projected to increase to 1,603 million tons by 2030. According to a recent report, over 27 million Pakistanis do not have access to clean drinking water, and some 40 million are deprived of sanitary facilities. Some 60,000 tons of solid waste is generated by urban population, whereas its disposal, collection and management system is poor, impoverished and inadequate. Total number of motor vehicles registered in the country is around ten million, and vehicular emissions account for almost 45 percent of pollution.

Likewise, industrial pollutants are grossly responsible for widespread environmental degradation. Various industrial processes generate voluminous hazardous waste, chemical waste, toxic gaseous pollutants and other health-injurious emissions like smoke, dust and noise. Generally, industrial effluent including toxic waste is dumped and released to cleaner air or in water bodies without treatment, unchecked by the authorities or other stakeholders. The seawater of Karachi is considered the worst-affected because of the discharge of industrial waste from Korangi and Landhi industrial estates and Karachi Export Processing Zone. In the Korangi industrial area, about 3,500 industrial units, including 372 textile mills and 170 leather tanneries, dispose of untreated waste into the sea. Likewise, over 1,200 industrial units of steel, automobile, pharmaceuticals, refineries and engineering in Landhi pollute the atmosphere and seawater. Added to this environmental hazard are the significant oil-spills from ships and fishing trawlers transiting the seaports.

Unfortunately, performance of the Ministry of Climate Change remains lackluster and leaves much to be desired. Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) has become a toothless organization, which has seen three chief executives (Director General) during the last three years, whereas three critical posts (out of total 12 posts), including Director and Deputy Director both of Legal & Enforcement Department, are vacant since long. It has failed to enforce PEPA-1997 rules and regulations, and its activities are simply focused to monitoring the baseline conditions of ambient air quality and implementation of energy-efficiency related projects. And so is the case with EPA Punjab, Sindh EPA, EPA Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, EPA Balochistan, AJK EPA and Gilgit-Baltistan EPA, as none of these agencies cover industrial, mining and infrastructure sectors, effectively and comprehensively.

In compliance with the environmental protection act 1997, it is mandatory for the sponsors of all development projects, in any economic sector, to conduct a comprehensive environmental impact assessment (EIA) study along with project feasibility study, and accordingly propose and implement mitigation and remedial measures to ensure clean environment. The apathetic attitude of a host of EPAs towards complying with the environmental rules and law on the part of project sponsors is symbolized in the case of CPEC power projects such as Sahiwal 1,320-MW coal-fired power plant and Port Qasim 1,320-MW coal-fired power project, and Lahore Orange Line Metro Train project. The EIA reports of these mega projects were cleared rather in haste by the provincial EPAs, whereas these reports lacked the essential details as well as public hearing required under the law.

The writer is former chairman of the State Engineering Corporation