AS budget time approaches, government departments and big contractors are racing against time to ‘demolish and build’ at the expense of ‘green and sustainable’ development model, which has yet to be adopted as policy in Pakistan. Trees and green belts are considered life-sustaining components of a healthy city. Yet they are routinely sacrificed for the ‘development’ projects.
It has been reliably learnt that the planned widening of Khyber/Jamrud Road the trees and green belts outside the Islamia College will be used for an extra lane for the buses. The old mosque by the police station will have more than half of it demolished. The shops ‘town stores’, such as Rainbow, Jan’s etc will have no parking area in front, as the road will be widened to within a few feet of their premises.
The parking place alongside Khyber Teaching Hospital will go, so that the patients will have no place to park their vehicles in front of the medical stores. Access roads lower down; opposite City Towers will also go in order to accommodate the demand of more smoke-emitting buses.
Most Peshawar roads already have four lanes, wide enough even by western standards. Until recently widening of roads was carried out every ten years, but not having resolved the expanding traffic congestion, the city planners can only think of widening roads on yearly basis now, inviting yet more vehicles rather than reducing, with accompanying pollution and contributing to health hazards. Somehow the planners have never thought ‘out of the box’ solution: how to get out of this vicious cycle?
In the process it has sacrificed whatever few green belts and trees have escaped this yearly carnage.
The government needs urgent long term strategic planning rather than short-term solutions like road widening. Mass Transit System (Mono Rail/subway) is the most favoured mode of transport globally. Most countries have tackled traffic congestion with an environment friendly, economically sustainable mode of transport which is also public friendly, considering the health benefits, with reduction of both air and noise pollution. As roads have already reached their maximum width even by international standards, any further widening annually will entail social and health costs to the public. A railway line from Peshawar city to Khyber Pass already exists which can be taken up by a private-public partnership for a metro service. Previously, similar proposals were shot down by the existing entrenched ‘transport mafia’.
A recent study (April 2011) published by ‘Environmental Health Perspectives’, a peer-reviewed journal, in the University of Southern California has found the exposure to airborne highway pollutants and emissions from fossil fuels, vehicles and pavements can cause brain damage in experimental mice similar to memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. “They have an effect on brain neurons and long term brain health consequences,” says senior researcher Caleb Finch, “resulting in significant damage to neurons involved in learning and memory and also inflammation associated with premature aging and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Urging more research to determine if the same effects could be detected in humans, he asked, “How can we protect urban dwellers from this type of toxicity?”
Another study reviewed the medical and residency histories of 51,485 people who had participated in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Survey, conducted in and around Copenhagen between 1993 and 1997. According to this survey of more than 50,000 people, every 10 additional decibels of road noise led to an increase of 14 per cent in the probability of a stroke when averaged for all age groups. The researchers suggest that noise acts as a stressor and disturbs sleep, which results in increased blood pressure and heart rate, as well as increased level of stress hormones.
"Previous studies have linked traffic noise with raised blood pressure and heart attacks,” said lead researcher Mette Sorensena of the Danish Cancer Society, “Our study shows that exposure to road traffic noise seems to increase the risk of stroke.”
Pakistan Environmental Protection Foundation had for long advocated and eventually made the government purchase hundreds of CNG buses incurring a heavy expenditure, but these are now gathering dust in warehouses. Why? The ubiquitous ‘transport mafia’ has sabotaged this environmental and people friendly project.
It’s time we review our existing ‘development paradigm’ in favour of an environmental friendly and socially sustainable model.
According to World Bank report, Pakistan is spending approximately Rs500 billion on environmental related diseases which can only be reduced with sound environmental policies and practices at the local and provincial government level.
Public awareness and involvement is necessary but the government cannot just sit and become a silent spectator in this unfolding human catastrophe that is claiming lives and livelihoods of millions each year. It’s time to act now.
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