ISLAMABAD, Aug 26: As people continue to breathe urban smog, Pakistan Environment Protection Agency’s (EPA) high-tech air monitoring system has been closed due to shortage of funds.
Environmentalists in the Ministry of Climate Change described the closure as a major ‘environmental setback’ as since June 30 the air quality in the country has not been monitored.
Even the technical staff hired under the project and trained over a period of four years by Japanese experts in air and water quality management has been sent home.
The Rs1.2 billion Environment Monitoring System (EMS) project was started six years ago with Japanese assistance.
The system had seven fixed and three mobile air quality monitoring stations in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, and Quetta with data collecting and analysing gear.
Pak-EPA was to evaluate the status of the atmosphere (detect the amount of harmful emissions) and take necessary measures to reduce emissions into the air.
Even though it was initiated with assistance and support from the Japanese government, but constant shortage of funds crippled the state-of-the-art setup. The technology demanded frequent upgrades and change of spare parts, and there were times when the EMS staff went without salaries for six to seven months at a stretch.
“The Japanese government had picked up more than Rs970 million foreign exchange component of the project. And it took more than a hundred training sessions to train the officers hired under the project to independently run and maintain the equipment,” said an official in the ministry explaining how after June 30 there has been zero air quality monitoring in the country.
According to the senior official, the situation was no better in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan where services of all technical staff were terminated.Environmentalists described the closure as a deliberate attempt to keep departments weak. “Pak- EPA does not have relevant manpower and logistics, and has also suspended its Vehicle Emission Testing, over three years ago and its field squad terminated,” one of them told Dawn. The brief from the last meeting (December, 2011) of the Project Steering Committee, available with Dawn, observed that since there was no arrangement of funds with the provincial EPAs, this project faced another setback in terms of maintaining and operating equipment. The air quality data could not be generated on regular basis and the activities of EPA’s laboratory was adversely affected.
In July 2011, experts from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) were instituted to carry out an ex-post facto mid-term evaluation of the EMS project, who rated the project ‘unsatisfactory’ due to sustainability issues.
Deputy Director Laboratory, Pak-EPA Farzana Altaf Shah described the project as one of its kind that should have continued. “Pak-EPA is pushing to extend the project for another year. We have also been making efforts to regularise the 32 positions in Islamabad of highly qualified-officers,” said Farzana Altaf Shah, insisting that the project had a successful run.
She attributed the final failure of the project to devolution. “After June 30 the funding was completely stopped. There was no point in retaining the staff,” she said explaining that the one or two officers who were coming to work were the ones hoping that the project would sooner or later be salvaged.