ONE of the most iconic black-and-white photographs of the last century shows a woman cradling her severely disabled daughter in her bath, the minimal light illuminating a hauntingly tender composition. The portrait is from Minamata, the Japanese fishing village where 900 were killed and thousands badly affected — including some in utero — by methylmercury poisoning in 1956. On Thursday, experts at a workshop in Karachi on the Minamata Convention on Mercury, to which Pakistan is a signatory, called for implementing the provisions of the international agreement and creating awareness about the importance of regulating the management and disposal of this toxic chemical element. The workshop was organised by the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency in collaboration with other organisations including the United Nations Environment Programme. It was part of an initial assessment project that aims to develop baselines on mercury management and develop national mercury inventories, in other words the preparatory work to ensure that public health and the environment are protected from mercury poisoning, known as Minamata disease.

As history has shown us, the consequences of such a disaster can be horrific. A neurological disorder, Minamata disease can cause a range of chronic disorders of varying severity, including anxiety, loss of appetite, damage to hearing, speech and vision, loss of coordination of muscle movement, and in extreme cases, paralysis, coma and death. As environmental concerns become prioritised across the world, particularly in the wake of climate change, there are increasing efforts to control the use and emission of mercury. In Pakistan, the major sources of mercury include certain industrial and hospital equipment such as thermometers and manometers, dental fillings, jewellery, skin-whitening creams, electric batteries, paints and various species of fish. In fact, the diversity of sources and their place in our daily lives makes the issue one of grave concern. It is therefore vital that the government and health and environmental experts coordinate on a sustained basis with industry leaders to reduce and, where other alternatives are available, phase out the use of mercury.

Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2017

Opinion

Intolerance grows
Updated 18 Oct 2021

Intolerance grows

Failure to pass the bill undermines the writ of the state, highlights its inability to guarantee citizens’ protection and freedom.
Moral panic
Updated 18 Oct 2021

Moral panic

If conflation of culture with religion is taken as true, there is mounting evidence that society has gone closer to such roots.
Challenges amid discord
18 Oct 2021

Challenges amid discord

Institutional disharmony and polarised politics are impeding efforts to address the country’s challenges.
Climate & youth
Updated 17 Oct 2021

Climate & youth

Disillusionment and anxiety are on the rise among youth as they confront the diminishing prospects of a better tomorrow.

Editorial

Financial troubles
Updated 18 Oct 2021

Financial troubles

Growing trade gap is fuelling the current account deficit and bringing the already meagre foreign exchange reserves under stress.
18 Oct 2021

Complaint portal

IN a ruling on Thursday, the Mingora bench of the Peshawar High Court held that the Prime Minister’s Performance...
18 Oct 2021

Capital’s master plan

IT is encouraging that on Thursday, the restructured commission formed by the federal cabinet to revise ...
Carnage in Kandahar
Updated 17 Oct 2021

Carnage in Kandahar

Pakistan’s anti-extremism policy is in many ways half-baked and inconsistent.
17 Oct 2021

Sanctity of contracts

PAKISTAN is facing yet another international dispute before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment...
17 Oct 2021

New sports policy

THIS week, the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee chief Haroon Malik was in Zurich to hold ...