Participants of a dialogue were informed that Karachi for the last several years has lacked a proper mechanism to monitor its air quality at such a time when harmful industrial and vehicular emissions, the burning of municipal waste, the cutting of trees frequently and rapid commercialisation had irreversibly damaged the city’s environment.
The dialogue titled “Air quality & Climate change: A case of Karachi” was jointly organised recently by the National Forum for Environment and Health and EMC Pakistan. Sindh Transport Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah was chief guest on the occasion, while a large number of noted environmentalists, academicians, public representatives, industrialists, and government officials attended.
The participants of the event were informed that the city lacked a mechanism to lawfully stop use of vehicles which had become old and were constantly emitting pollutants. One such programme, which had been launched some years back by the provincial government with proper procurement of monitoring equipment and hiring of staff after proper allocation of a budget, was abandoned without any valid cause.
They were also told that air quality monitoring stations of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency had not been in use for the last six to seven years, while one such programme of Suparco to monitor the levels of air and water pollution had been abandoned some 10 years back. This all happened when the environment of the city has been constantly exposed to a number of hazardous gasses causing repercussions for the health of the citizens.
The audience were informed that though Sindh had adopted its own environmental quality standards after passing the provincial environmental protection law in 2014, it had no binding limitations for industries to reduce harmful emissions of hazardous gasses by them.
Environmentalist Saquib Ejaz Hussain said in his presentation on that air quality of the city had severely deteriorated due to rapid urbanisation so much so that Karachi had been termed fifth most polluted city of the world according to a report of the World Health Organisation in 2016.
He said that tree-cutting had continued unabated in the city over the last several years to give way to rapid urbanisation so much so that vegetation cover of the city had decreased from two percent from seven percent back in 2008.
He said that the coal yard of the Karachi Port Trust had been functioning without any check though activities related to transportation, handling and storage of coal had virtually ruined the environment of the adjoining areas, causing serious health risks for their residents, labourers and visitors.
He said that tree-cutting in urban centres be criminalised so as to punish people who had been constantly damaging environment for their vested commercial interests.
Farzana Altaf, director-general of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (PEPA), said that use of non-degradable plastic bags in Islamabad capital territory had been controlled by up to 70 percent and the provincial governments should also follow suit and adopt such measures to prevent further harm to the environment.
She said that she had been able to make industries and businesses of the federal capital and of its surrounding areas to fully adhere to the national environmental quality standards, while the provinces should also adopt a similar approach to persuade industries to adopt such provincial environmental standards on a voluntary basis.
Khurrum Sher Zaman, lawmaker of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in the Sindh Assembly, said that he would soon move a resolution in the assembly so as to make it binding upon the provincial government to ban use of non-degradable plastic bags in the province.
The president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Shamim Ahmed Firpo, said that industries should fulfil their obligation regarding the protection of environment by setting up waste water treatment plant on their own without waiting any more for the government’s support for this cause.
Mir Shabbar Ali, dean of Civil and Architecture Faculty of the NED University of Engineering & Technology, said that the constant phenomenon of congestion of vehicular traffic in the city had led to the problem of air quality deterioration.
Gulzar Firoz, chairman of the Standing Committee on Environment of FPCCI, said that industries had to fulfil their responsibilities for decreasing the level of hazardous gasses in the environment causing an alarming increase in respiratory illnesses among citizens of the city.
He said the Sindh and federal governments as well as the private sector had to combine their forces to effectively tackle the issue of air quality deterioration occurring at a fast pace.
Abdul Malik Ghauri, former DG of Sepa, said that some 10 years back, all necessary approvals had been given to constructing an elevated expressway in Karachi from the Jinnah Bridge till Quaidabad mainly above Sharea Faisal, but successive governments had failed to build the expressway which could have been an effective means to resolve issues of vehicular traffic congestion in the city.
In his concluding remarks, Sindh Transport Minister Nasir Hussain Shah said that the government was fully committed to reviving the proposed system of the Karachi Circular Railway, and for this cause, encroachments were being removed, and at the same time two separate sections of Bus Rapid Transit Service were being built in the city.
He said that Karachi since long had been lacking a viable mass transit system but the present provincial government had the utmost resolve to provide the same facility on most modern lines to the residents of the city at the earliest.
He said the government would soon revive mechanisms to check fitness of both private and commercial motor vehicles so as to certify their suitability for their plying on roads of the city to safeguard the environment. For reviving this system, services of contractors were being hired from outside the country, he added.
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