Sepa’s lab, air monitoring units dysfunctional due to financial crunch

Updated June 08, 2019


This photograph shows people walking near a factory. — AFP/File
This photograph shows people walking near a factory. — AFP/File

KARACHI: Efforts of the Supreme Court-mandated water commission to improve monitoring and regulatory capacity of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) seem to have gone to waste as the agency’s environmental monitoring stations and laboratory for testing water quality have been inoperative for the past few months owing to financial constraints, it emerged on Friday.

Sepa’s laboratory and air quality monitoring units had restarted their operation on the directives of the water commission only last year. The commission inspected these facilities at Sepa’s head office in Karachi in 2017 and found them dysfunctional owing to financial constraints.

The commission was tasked by the Supreme Court to hold an inquiry into the state’s failure in providing clean drinking water and sanitation facilities in the province.

Three monitoring stations made operational on the intervention of SC-mandated water commission last year

Its terms of reference included examining the statutory role played by Sepa in the issues mandated to it under the Sindh Environment Protection Act, 2014.

No funds

According to sources, the city has three dysfunctional environmental monitoring stations; two of them installed at Sepa’s head office in Korangi and the office of the deputy commissioner Central in North Nazimabad, respectively, while the third one is a mobile environmental monitoring station.

These systems, they said, were provided to Sepa in Sindh and to other provincial government departments as part of the Rs1.23 billion project launched by the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency in collaboration with the Japan International Corporation Agency (Jica) in 2007.

JICA’s share in the project was 79 per cent (Rs973 million). The federal government bore 21pc (Rs260m) while the Sindh government was to provide technical assistance and environmental monitoring equipment.

Sources said that the project’s objective was to measure air pollution levels especially in the city’s industrial zones.

They said that these stations did carry out air monitoring for some years before they fell into disuse in 2012 following devolution under which the project was transferred from the federal government to the provincial government without any financial assistance. They were made operational on the intervention of the water commission in 2017.

Sepa’s website shows that the last air quality index and vehicular emission reports were uploaded in Nov 2018 and March 2018, respectively.

When contacted, Ashique Langha, director of Sepa, Karachi office, admitted non-operation of air quality monitoring units and said: “The sensors of air quality units either need replacement or calibration for which we have received [financial] support from the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan [WWF-P] under a memorandum of understanding.”

A Lahore-based company, he said, had completed its assessment of the equipment and would soon start its job to make them operational.

“We can’t test heavy metals at the laboratory as the equipment requires some repairs but we are still carrying out tests for some parameters,” he replied to another question.

The department, he said, faced serious funding constraints and it had not yet received its release for the fourth quarter, apart from capacity issues and manpower.

“The department is yet to receive reply of the proposals sent to the finance department,” he said.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2019