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KARACHI, Nov 13: Referring to the growing environmental pollution in the country, experts at a meeting on Tuesday said that though Pakistan did not contribute much to greenhouse gas emissions, it was among the top 10 countries that would be affected by global climate change.

They were speaking at the launch of the National Council of Environmental Journalists and its website, which would host environment-related stories.

The function organised by the NCEJ was sponsored by the Internews Europe.

Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum chief Mohammad Ali Shah, who was the chief guest on the occasion, said every day over 500 million gallons of untreated sewage, infested mostly with raw industrial effluents, entered the sea, heavily polluting the fragile marine ecosystem and affecting many of the commercially important marine products, including prawns, shrimps, lobsters and crabs.

He said dams and barrages built upstream the Indus had affected the flow and quantity of water coming to the deltaic region, which once housed the world’s second largest arid zone mangrove forests. It had led to the shrinking of the mangrove cover.

The extensively developed root system of the mangroves protected the coast against sea intrusion, cyclones and tsunamis, but with scant mangroves the coast had become vulnerable. He said large tracks of riverine forests had been cut while deforestation on a mass scale had been carried out in the upcountry. Many water bodies all over the country had been contaminated with chemical-infested agricultural runoffs — an example of which was the Manchhar Lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, which had now become almost dead.

London-based freelance journalist Nadene Ghori said she was surprised to see visitors throwing garbage, waste food, plastic bottles etc on the Sandspit beach, which being a turtle nesting spot was a protected site. She said she had seen at least two turtle carcasses, one of them having a big hole in the head. She said it showed a serious lack of awareness of the environment among beach-goers, which necessitated that the media work harder to spread environment awareness.

Ms Ghori, who had worked with the BBC, Al Jazeera, etc, and had been coming to Pakistan for the past 10 years, said the media needed to wake up to environmental issues and give such stories the importance they deserved. She said that as the organisation of journalists having its commitment to the environment had been formed, its office-bearers were seeking donors to finance its work.

NCEJ chief Amar Guriro said the United Nations had reported that Pakistan was losing over Rs365 billion annually because of environmental degradation. Most of its freshwater sources had been contaminated with municipal and industrial waste. He said deforestation was going on unchecked and the expanding cities were creating pollution on a wider scale. These issues needed to be covered widely by the media, he added.

Journalist Khalid Mehmood, Afia Salam and others also spoke at the function conducted by Aown Shahzad. Media persons who had undergone the five-day training were given certificates. The address of the website is: www.ncej.org.