PESHAWAR, July 27: Portraying a bleak picture of environmental degradation, the NWFP Environmental Protection Agency (Epa) has declared the provincial capital one of the most polluted cities facing with serious ecological problems.

“Peshawar is the most polluted one among other major cities of the NWFP with carbon dioxide emission reaching up to 23 particles per million (ppm) against the World Health Organisation guidelines of 10ppm,” reveals a study conducted by the agency.

Other major cities including Nowshera, Hangu, Karak, Haripur, Mardan, Abbottabad, Mingora, Kohat, Bannu and D.I. Khan have also surpassed the WHO limits pertaining to major air pollutants. Despite enactment of various laws including the Pakistan Environmental Act, action plans and formation of environmental tribunals during the last one decade, ecology is on the verge of degradation in urban and rural areas of the province.

The agency in its report “Environmental profile of the NWFP”, which is yet to be published, says that the province is confronted with growing environmental issues like urbanisation, population explosion and non-judicious exploitation of natural resources which are threatening the environment in socio-economic terms.

“Problems have been further exacerbated with the influx of million of Afghan refugees by putting immense pressure on the fragile resource-based ecology and nascent infrastructure of the province and triggering ecological demands including air and water pollution, solid waste problems, deforestation, soil erosion, growing scarcity of water, overuse of rangelands and wasteful energy consumption,” says the report.

The main sources of air pollution in the province, according to the study are: vehicular emissions, industrial emissions, emissions from brick kiln factories, massive burning of solid waste/refuse, domestic burnings, fuel adulteration and use of ill-maintained vehicles.

The more serious illnesses related to air pollution include bronchitis, asthma and cancer. It can even lead to mental impairment in children. Respiratory infections and allergies are very common diseases attributed to dust and smoke. Increasing number of roads accidents are also attributed to high level of carbon monoxide, causing drowsiness, headache and even death on heavy traffic roads due to the formation of carboxyl haemoglobin.

NOISE: Noise level also exceeds the permissible level of 85 decibels unit. Major source of noise pollution is road transport specially auto-rickshaws plying on roads with defective silencers, trains and aircrafts.

The industrial units in the province are scattered over a vast stretch of the province with greater concentration in and around the cities of Peshawar, Haripur, Charsadda, Nowshera and Gadoon Amazai. Industrial emissions from chimneys are also a source of air pollution in these areas. The combustion of old rubber tyres and used mobile oil in these factories emits hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide. The increased number of brick kilns situated in the province particularly in Peshawar have almost doubled the level of air pollution mainly due to the use of large amount of rubber, low quality of coal and used oil for burning purposes.

SOLID WASTE: In the NWFP generation of municipal solid waste is estimated to be between 0.4 and 0.6 kilograms per day per capita and virtually, no proper waste management system exists. Approximately 40 per cent of the generated wastes remain at collection points, or in streets, where they emit a host of pollutants into the air, making it unacceptable for breathing. Also on roadside, the dump burning of the municipal solid wastes generates air pollution problem.

The Epa has found that quality of drinking water is often low and seldom met the WHO guidelines. Water in many parts of the province was unsafe for human consumption due to both bacterial and chemical contamination.

It says that water samples of Haripur, Bannu and Kohat districts were 70 to 80 per cent clear from bacteriological contamination. About 40 per cent water samples were found contaminated in Peshawar and Nowshera, almost 50 per cent in Mardan and Swat. More than 60 per cent contaminated samples belonged to D.I. Khan, Chitral and Mansehra. While more than 80 per cent contaminated water samples pertained to Lakki, Hangu and Malakand districts.

SURFACE WATER: The quality of surface water has also been identified as the major issue of water resources. Untreated waste discharged from factories, industrial units, residential areas and municipal waste are the prime culprits which are polluting sources of surface water. It said that Bara River received untreated sewage and waste water from the eastern and central part of Peshawar city and the sub-urban areas and ultimately discharges into Kabul River.

One of the sources of pollution in Swat River is the water coming from its main tributaries, the Mingora Khawar. All the waste and effluent in Mingora city are added to Mingora Khawar and these pollutants are further injected into river swat contributing to its ecological degradation as well. The main sources of identified pollution entering the Kabul River system are untreated industrial effluent from sugar mills, paper and board mills, tanneries and textile mills. In addition, ghee and chemicals contribute significant pollutants.

Untreated municipal waste effluents from Peshawar and Nowshera enter the system mainly via the Budni Nulla, Bara River and the Kalpani River. Several sewers also discharge untreated waste to the system. About four sugar mills discharge their effluent to the river Kabul. Nowshera Aman Grah, Peshawar, Hattar-Haripur and Gadoon-Amazi industrial estates revealed some frightening figures that indicated serious threats to the aquatic, terrestrial, atmospheric ecosystems, and to the well-being of human, plant and animal life.

GREEN SECTOR: About green sector problems, the report says that a very large livestock population and excessive grazing, and over harvesting of natural vegetation are the main causes of rangeland degradation in the NWFP. Despite serious environmental problems caused by excessive overgrazing, little has been done to rehabilitate depleted rangeland.

It says that the forest area of the province decreased by 10.5 per cent from 1991 to 2004-05 and the reasons for this fast rate of deforestation were rapid increase in human and livestock populations.