Toxic environment

Published February 9, 2023

FOR millions in our teeming cities, clean air and water have become luxuries. What is even more alarming is that environmental pollution is quite literally having a deadly impact on people’s health. Mystery shrouds the deaths of 18 people, mostly children, who died in Karachi’s Keamari area last month. Experts are of the view that toxic emissions from industrial units in the area caused the deaths, but thanks to a botched probe by the authorities many questions about the tragedy remain unanswered. Taking notice of this pathetic state of affairs, the Sindh High Court on Tuesday ordered registration of FIRs of the case as well as a thorough investigation into the incident. Reportedly, 15 deaths occurred in the same area in 2020 as well. Regarding flaws in the initial probe, officials are said to have failed to carry out detailed autopsies of the victims, while Sepa, Sindh’s environment watchdog, apparently collected samples from factories allegedly responsible for the toxic emissions after the units were sealed. In a related development, Sepa recently found that several industries in Keamari were releasing hazardous emissions.

The Keamari tragedy highlights two major deadly environmental hazards in Karachi: toxic air and industrial units functioning in or near residential areas. Bad air, as medical experts have pointed out, is responsible for causing cancer and gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and kidney diseases, while due to the non-implementation of zoning laws, industrial units and congested, often poor, residential localities have been merged, creating a recipe for disaster. Industrial zones, particularly where units deal with hazardous material, should be located far from residential areas. Unfortunately, the Sindh authorities have failed to enforce this basic safety precaution, and at present there seems to be no check on factories and industrial units operating in populated areas. For the sake of the people’s health, action needs to be taken in this regard, while the Sindh administration can definitely do more to rein in rampant air pollution.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2023

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