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Harbour pollution costs navy $1bn a year

March 16, 2007

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ISLAMABAD, March 15: Severe pollution in Karachi harbour, caused by untreated industrial affluent and municipal waste, is not only taking its toll on marine life and civilian population but also causing $1 billion worth of losses to Pakistan Navy (PN) every year.

All the navy platforms including surface ships, fleet tankers, mine hunters and missile boats berthed at Karachi’s upper harbour and PN Dockyard had been severely damaged by the seawater, the composition of which has changed for the worst due to unbridled pollution in recent years, Commander PN Rear Admiral Mehmood Ahmed Khan told the Senate Standing Committee on Defence here on Thursday.

He expressed fears that some of the vital PN assets would not be available to it at ‘crucial times’ if the low conductivity and increased chloride and sulphate in seawater continued to inflict damages.

He said Indian navy had the edge to move from east to west and south while the PN was mainly dependent on the Karachi harbour.

“This is indicative of losses. If we count on other variables, the losses can be in billions and billions of dollars,” Secretary Defence Tariq Wasim Ghazi said, expressing concerns that the pollution could damage the defence capability of not only the PN but the PAF as well.

Air Vice Marshall Rao Qamar Sulaiman said the failure of the Ministry of Environment as well as provincial and city governments to implement the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997 in letter and in spirit had converted Karachi into one of the most polluted cities of the region.

He said Karachi was a strategic target for the enemy due to its industrial and commercial importance. He feared that due to air pollution, the PAF could face sever difficulties in defending this vital city in times of wars.

He said due to solid waste, industrial affluent and illegal mushrooming of slaughter houses and poultry farms, the Karachi skyline was full of smoke and big birds. The PAF had lost 10 aircraft and three pilots since 1985 in some 3,500 accidents caused by birds, he said, adding that in financial terms, the air force suffered losses to the tune of $200 million due to damage to its aircraft.

Senators Dilawar Hussain and Prof Khurshid Ahmed described as ‘shameful’ and ‘horrible’ the air and water pollution in Karachi and their damages to the national defence capabilities, marine life and civilians.

The committee also formed a taskforce that would complete recommendations for checking environmental degradation in Karachi and its harbour. The taskforce will hold its meeting next week and complete recommendations within two months. Cases against the industries and authorities responsible for pollution in Karachi would also be filed by the PAF and the PN in environmental tribunals.

The committee and defence ministry asked for a complete damage assessment survey of the pollution in Karachi. It feared that the real picture could be even more gruesome and the damages beyond thinking.

Minister of State for Environment Malik Ameen Aslam Khan drew the attention of the committee towards a recent World Bank report that stated that every year the losses caused to Pakistan by pollution were equivalent to 3-5 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“This is alarming for a country which has a GDP growth of just 7 per cent,” Mr Khan said, expressing resentment over the performance of the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency. He said the government was facing losses worth billions of dollars every year due to its inability to spend just millions of rupees for controlling pollution.

According to PN officials, the National Environmental Coordination Committee (NECC) had been formed in September 2001 after the abolition of the Marine Pollution Control Board (MPCB).