KARACHI: The apathy of the provincial government towards public interest projects can be gauged from the fact that it has been sitting on a major industrial effluent treatment project plan for a decade, though it has been offered a proposal to arrange finances for the project.

This point came to light during a seminar held at Karachi University’s Area Study Centre for Europe (ASCE) on Wednesday. The event titled ‘Human induced climatic changes and impact on health: future strategies’ was organised by the centre in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

Highlighting the challenges Pakistan confronted in the face of climatic change, speakers said that an acute lack of planning and poor governance had compounded the burden of climate change challenges multiple times in the country.

Pakistan, they said, was among the countries found most vulnerable to impacts of climate change. This vulnerability was intrinsically linked with increased environmental degradation and lack of preparedness.

“No one is working on industrial pollution in Pakistan, a major public health problem. The discharge of wastewater is destroying our productive land and water bodies, but there is no alarm,” said Gulzar Firoz heading the Standing Committee on Environment of the Federation of Pakistan Chamber and Commerce and Industry while referring to the Keenjhar Lake getting severely polluted due to wastewater discharge coming from the Kotri industrial area.

The people working in factories and the population of slums that have sprung up along the embankments of Malir and Lyari rivers, being used as wastewater drains, were directly threatened by the hazards of wastewater pollution, he added.

According to Mr Firoz, Karachi needs combined effluent treatment plant/s as many factories set up 35 to 50 years ago now exist in congested areas and neither have sufficient spaces, nor funds to establish separate wastewater treatment plants.

A project of combined effluent treatment plant, he told the audience, was prepared by the government a decade ago with an estimated cost of Rs3 billion. It was later revised in 2005 when its cost had increased to rupees five to six billion.

“Now, its cost has jumped to Rs10bn due to high inflation. No funds were ever allocated for the project, though land is available,” he observed.

He further said that he had met the chief minister over the issue six months ago and offered support, but there had been no response yet.

“We had suggested setting up a task force in this regard and offered to arrange finances for the project through international donors,” he said, adding that the sole combined effluent plant in the city was being operated by the tanners’ association under a public-private partnership.

He also showed a slide listed with a number of outdated laws enacted to bound employers to ensure safe working environment and protect workers’ rights and said that the legislations needed to be updated and implemented.

“Only a handful of industries are following the standard procedures on operational and workers’ safety and that, too, under pressure from foreign buyers. The Sindh Environmental Protection Agency is too weak to force industries to adopt measures to ensure safety of public health,” he said.

Speaking on adaptation mechanisms on climate change, Mohammad Moazzam Khan representing the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan said that not many people were aware of the fact that the low pressure system, which developed over the Arabian Sea in June-July, caused severe hot weather conditions in Karachi but heavy rain in Gujarat on the other side of the border.

He blamed unawareness on the part of people on how to deal with severe hot weather that claimed countless lives. “There were hardly any deaths in other parts of the province experiencing much higher temperature during that time. That showed that people there knew how to handle intense hot weather, he said.

Tracing the past incidents of harsh weather, he said that Karachi had floods in 1959 and witnessed heavy rainfall in 1977. The city, he argued, had no threat from the rising sea level as the increase was minimal.

Underlining the importance of traditional knowledge in handling natural disasters, he said the tsunami generated off the coast of Makran in 1945 couldn’t cause widespread human casualties only because people had already moved to elevated grounds after observing distinct changes in weather and the sea behaviour, he said.

“But, we are yet to recover from the Cyclone 2A that came in 1999. It completely destroyed the Left Bank Outfall Drain and, consequently, three freshwater lakes that have turned saline,” he said, adding that coastal erosion and sea intrusion were important issues that mainly had emerged due to poor planning.

Dr Syeda Kanwal Aslam of Dow University of Health Sciences spoke about how intense weather conditions were aggravating the health crisis in the country that, she pointed out, reported a large number of malaria cases.

Simple and cost-efficient measures at the household level, for instance, the use of insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor insecticide spraying, could help prevent vector-borne diseases like malaria.

Prof Mubarik Ali, Prof Uzma Shujaat of the ASCE and journalist Afia Salam also spoke.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2015

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