THE contents and conclusions of a recent study of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on “urban air quality management in Pakistan” should not have come as a shock or surprise to many who are already aware of the ever-deteriorating environmental conditions in the country. The ADB report claims that every year there are about 22,000 premature deaths among adults, and 700 among children, due to the prevalent high-rate of air pollution.

Economic growth of a country is conversely proportional to environmental degradation, and Pakistan is no exception. In recent years environmental pollution has increased to alarming levels in the country. Though legal and regulatory framework for environmental control exists since long, the weak enforcement and ineffective management, compounded with high population growth, has not delivered results, and pollution and environmental degradation continue to grow with every passing day. Reports about polluted air, contaminated water and on-going deforestation in major cities paint a gloomy picture and expose laxity on the part of the institutions, lack of political commitment and insensitivity of the society to the issues. Pakistan therefore faces significant environmental challenges, at present and in coming years, particularly in the backdrop of the government’s focus on developing industrial, housing and infrastructure sectors.

Indeed, environment has not been on the government’s priority plans.The, environmental tribunals, in accordance with the Environmental Tribunals Rules 1999, were set up in Karachi and Lahore in June 1999, but have only started functioning from January 8, 2007, and that too in compliance with the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

The government is preparing drinking water policy and other environment-related policies for the last more than a year and has not yet been finalised. Every year, on June 5, the World Environment Day is observed in Pakistan, but without taking any concrete and effective measures to address the issues. Given such little commitment from the government to tackle environment challenges, the Ministry of Environment has happily declared 2007 as the ‘Green Pakistan Year’.

Till recently, the activities of Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) were generally limited to monitoring the baseline conditions of ambient air quality and implementation of energy-efficiency related projects in major urban areas. It was only last month that the Pak-EPA has directed the steel melting furnaces operating in the Islamabad industrial estate to install efficient devices for the purpose of controlling industrial pollution in the federal capital, the population of which has already reached the mark of one million.

Also, Pak-EPA will conduct a public hearing, on February 8, prior to the grant of an environmental approval to a hotel-expansion project in Islamabad. These are salutary measures, and considered better late than never, to deal with problems related to environment and atmosphere, even if these were in compliance with the directive of the Supreme Court. Such actions however should not remain confined to Islamabad and need to be taken countrywide by the respective provincial Environmental Protection Agencies, expanding widely to the entire industrial, mining and infrastructure sectors.The fact is that the environmental plans, programmes and projects are not adequately financed by the government.. The share of expenditure on environment improvement is hardly 0.04 per cent of total public-sector development programme, according to a report of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) that is a partner to the Pak-EPA providing it support services.

With the funding of international agencies however, the total expenditure on environment-related programmes amounts to about $17 million annually. On the other hand, an amount of $84 million is said to be required simply to correct the current environmental problems. The cost of environmental neglect, in terms of health expenses, labour productivity and other factors, is enormous and is estimated at $1.8 billion a year. The World Bank claims that about three to five per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is being lost on this account.

The current social and environmental indicators and other related figures are horrific and mind-boggling. Pakistan is among 12 Asian countries, out of a total of 15, where air pollution is recorded at severe and un-acceptable levels. Air pollution level in Karachi and Lahore is estimated twenty-times higher than permissible limits as per the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, and continues to rise rapidly. More than six-and–a-half million persons are hospitalised annually due to air pollution related illnesses. According to the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, drinking water in 17 major cities is not suitable for human consumption, and in Lahore alone, 70 per cent of city water is contaminated.

Net forest coverage in Pakistan has reduced by five per cent in recent times. The levels of ambient particulates i.e. smoke particles and dust are generally twice the world average and more than five times as high as in the industrialised countries. There are over six million vehicles on the roads in the country. According to an ADB report, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 1995 amounted to 85.4 million tons. Vehicles operating in Karachi add 275,000 tons of carbon monoxide (CO) in a year. Also, noise levels in Karachi are much higher than the WHO permissible limits.

Pakistan generates 54,850 tons of solid waste per day and till recently there was no solid waste management in any major city. Polythene bags amounting to 364 tons are used daily in Karachi. Fertiliser off-take has doubled since 1992-93—to the present level of over four million tons—whereas use of pesticides/insecticides has almost tripled since then. Tanneries located in Sialkot alone use 65,000 tons of hazardous chemicals annually. Unprotected use and storage of such chemicals and dispersal of waste result in urinal infections and cause about 10,000 deaths in Pakistan every year.

Industrial pollution, in particular, is wreaking havoc with the health and environment of the populace. Besides the vehicular emissions that account far almost 45 per cent of pollution, the industrial pollutants are grossly responsible for widespread environmental degradation. Pakistan’s industrial sector is broad-based, covering textile, leather, fertiliser, chemicals, petrochemicals, pharmaceutical, paper and board, electrical goods, food, sugar and other agriculture-related, basic metal, non-metallic minerals, cement, automobile and light/heavy engineering industries. These industrial processes generate voluminous hazardous waste, toxic gaseous pollutants and other health-injurious emissions like smoke and dust. Sadly, there is no understanding of pollution prevention and improving control of pollutants as far as the industry, primarily in private sector, is concerned. Resultantly, toxic waste is dumped and released to cleaner air or in water bodies, unchecked by the authorities and other stakeholders.

Environmental compliance by the industry is critical, and a lot is required to be done by the Pak-EPA in this context, rather on an urgent basis. Under the WTO (World Trade Organisation) regime for export-oriented industries, there are ISO (International Standards Organisation) stringent requirements of safe disposal of hazardous substance, solid waste and effluents, and it is therefore essential that all such industries are certified under the ISO 14000 standards. It is heartening that an effluent treatment plant at the Korangi (Karachi) industrial area has recently been completed, at a cost of Rs500 million, to treat the combined effluent sludge and solid waste of all the tanneries located in the area. The UNIDO-sponsored Kasur Tannery Pollution Control Project is already in operation, near Lahore, for effluent treatment of about 200 tanneries. These two plants, however, are not enough, as it is estimated that another eleven such treatment plants are required to be installed in the country.

Shockingly, only 21 out of 1,000 large industrial units of textile, steel and others in Lahore have waste treatment plants. In March 2006, the Pak-EPA launched a nationwide programme for the industrial sector known as Self-Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART), but the results are not yet visible. Currently, the Pak-EPA, with the help of the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and other international agencies, is in the process of developing a national programme for the management of chemicals and chemical waste. Will these programmes deliver the results, given the large-scale violation of environmental protection rules and lack of sense of social responsibility among the industrialists? There were recent press reports about rising pollution in the surrounding areas caused by two cement factories at Chakwal and Gharibwal that, interestingly, are being operated by foreign investors. Though dust collectors and electrostatic precipitators are duly installed, these cement plants continue to spew out high amounts of dust into the air, perhaps due to improper maintenance of the equipment.

The nation was shocked to learn that a fertilizer plant in Multan was dumping hazardous chemical waste in the open and into the irrigation channels, thus contaminating surface, air and water. The issue was raised by the National Assembly Standing Committee in October 2006. The unlawful dumping was done only when the state-owned fertiliser plant was divested and transferred to the private sector management. Ironically, the new owner and chief executive of the fertilizer plant, who has been sanctioned yet another fertilizer project recently, happens to be the City District Nazim, and that of the ruling party.

Industrial air and waste pollutants include gaseous pollutants, particulate pollution, fugitive emissions, waste or effluent, odours and noise. There are a number of methods employed and techniques adopted for controlling the industrial pollution. Gaseous pollutants can be controlled through absorption, which is the process of removal of one or more selected components from gaseous mixture, by making solution of gases in liquids. This is being done through absorption columns and absorption towers that are an integrated part of the modern process equipment, such as that in the chemical and petrochemical industry.

Today, a variety of technologies for pollution control are readily available, classified as mechanical, electromechanical and chemical process equipment. The government needs to effectively implement action plan to focus on promoting the use of environmental-friendly technology and equipment, developing indigenous capacity to produce and market the related equipment and materials. The local engineering industry already produces, or has the capability to manufacture, the required mechanical equipment including dust collectors, blowers and pumps, bag filters, sieves, scrubbers, separators, incinerators, electrostatic precipitator, and chemical process equipment such as columns, towers, vessels etc. It is expected that the national R&D activities may come up with innovative technologies in the field as well. The examples of successful applications of innovative environmental technologies in the Western countries include industrial use of plant (natural) dyes in textile processing, recycled plastic bags and waste/emission-free galvanising plants in engineering sector.

In compliance with the Environmental Protection Act 1997, it is mandatory for the sponsors of all the development projects, in any economic sector, to conduct a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study, along with project feasibility study, and accordingly propose and implement mitigation and remedial measures to ensure control of pollution and thus clean environment. Project sponsors are also required to submit periodic reports during project construction, and later, on operation, the status of mitigation measures employed.

But the apathetic attitude towards complying with the environmental rules and law on the part of project sponsors is symbolised in the case of DHA Cogen Ltd of the Defence Housing Authority, Karachi, which is installing a 94-MW thermal power plant, without conducting a comprehensive EIA study, and has now sought exemption to the same to avoid litigation as the citizens have registered environmental concerns against the under-construction project.

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