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Karachi

June 5, 2018

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The environmental time bomb is ticking away

Karachi never had heat-related deaths. However, in the summer of 2015, there were reportedly two-thousand casualties within a matter of weeks. This (2018) summer too, around a hundred-and-fifty heat-related casualties have been reported even though this has been denied by official circles. Whatever the case, the fact is that this is a major alarming development given the fact that Karachi was known for its mild weather and heat-related deaths were unheard of.

A little analysis and reflection would at once reveal the causative factors behind this alarming change in the weather pattern. The biggest factor could be the rapid disappearance of greenery. This in turn results from the unbridled construction activity going on in the city which is motivated by capitalist greed. The greenery has to capitulate to the onslaught of construction activity. Greenery is a temperate factor that keeps the temperature in check. The city’s tree cover is being rapidly denuded.

Add to that the water situation. The mixing of drinking water with sewage is a problem that doesn’t seem to elicit the attention of the authorities to the danger of disease any more. At so many points, clean water is reportedly being polluted with sewage. According to a study conducted by an elite hospital-cum-medical college in town many years ago, this is the cause of sixty percent of the city’s population being infected with ringworms, a malady that renders the host weak and lazy, affecting productivity.

Add to that the fact of a thousand new cars hitting the roads of the city every month. On account of lax traffic laws, with these vehicles and the existing rickety commercial vehicles emitting dense plumes of exhaust smoke into the atmosphere is another lethal factor. This is a sure “recipe” for lung cancer.

Sewage-laden trucks emptying their stinking cargo by the seashore with the stinking cargo meandering its way into the sea is a common sight. Perhaps nobody has ever paused to ponder the havoc that is wreaking on our marine life, otherwise the richest source of protein.

However, the city of Karachi is just a microcosm of the alarming national situation. Go up north and you see the all-too-obvious signs of environmental rot. The lush forty-two miles of countryside between Lahore and Gujranwala, which was once the country’s largest rice-producing belt and was even supplying the commodity to the former east Pakistan where it was staple food, is now just home to a whole lot of industrial plants that have eliminated that greenery and are discharging their effluent-riddled water into the waterways nearby, depleting them of the fish stocks that were once supplied to Lahore and the neighbouring cities.

The once lush landscape between Lahore and Sialkot is anything but lush now and is just home to commercial establishments, low-cost housing localities. Go further north and it is heart-rending to see the way our once superlatively idyllic mountainous areas are being rapidly denuded and shorn of their beauty.

Denudation of the mountains is a major causative factor in the flash floods that we witness soften during the monsoons. Forests are a natural barrier against floods as they check the gushing waters. No wonder then that we had flash floods twice within the summer of 1988 entailing the loss of lives and property to the tune of millions.

The crazy construction activity at the once-idyllic hill station of Murree, apart from having shorn the place of greenery, has raised the average daytime temperature of the hill station by at least two degrees Celsius. Pines, which once were the crowning glory of the hill station, have now become such a rare sight. We are also reportedly heading for a water crisis.

This is just a microcosm of the global environmental rot. Global warming, a manifestation of the hazards of modern technology, is claiming its own toll. More than that however is the capitalist greed that today has the world in its tentacles. The Amazon forests in Latin America are said to be direly threatened because of the rapid construction and “development” activity being undertaken there by “developers”. These forests are reported to be disappearing rapidly and vanishing into eternity, thus irreparably upsetting the natural balance of the area.

The jet streams that are so common a sight these days and otherwise make those very fancy kaleidoscopic patterns across the skies are responsible for the hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic which is said to cause maladies like skin cancers.

All these lethal portents must shake us out of our complacency at the earliest, and countries and governments have to work in tandem to catch the bull of environmental rot by the horns for the safety of humankind’s future and that of the planet, which is the only one we have. Let’s strive to preserve nature’s beautiful legacy.

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