By SARFRAZ ALI
National Forum on Environment and Health (NFEH) of Pakistan showed great concern over the fast degradation of environment especially in big cities like Karachi, Lahore and Faisalabad in the past 12 years, which inflicted huge losses to the economy posed threat to resources.
In a "fact sheet on environment protection" issued by NFEH, revealed that environment was on least priority of political leadership due to lack of political will and pressure from the influential.
President NFEH M Naeem Qureshi alleged that despite manifold increase in the budget of the Environment Ministry, rising from Rs50 million to Rs345 million in the last four years, and the foreign funded environment projects, no significant improvement has been witnessed in atmospheric and marine pollution.
Quoting a report, he said that public transport contributes nearly 70 to the environment pollution in all big cities including Karachi. The level of carbon dioxide is higher by 13 percent of the normal level of 0.79 percent of 100 milligrams. This included the presence of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other particles.
Major contributors are thick smoke emitting public transport vehicles and emission from industries.
Although, Pakistan introduced National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) in 1997 for enforcement in next ten years, the progress remained very slow and implementation has been less 10 percent in industrial units.
Environmental pollution has reached an alarming level in large cities of Pakistan due to rising number of vehicles on the roads.
Nearly 1.7 million vehicles in Karachi and over 3.6 million vehicles in the country are plying on the roads, of which 30 percent are not fit for plying on the roads as they discharge thick smoke with half-burnt fuel.
It is surprising that despite the orders of Sindh High Court against thick smoke emitting buses, no action has been taken so far. Among them, obsolete models of buses, taxis and rickshaw of 50s and 60s are the major contributors to the rising level of pollution in big cities.
City District Government Karachi has been talking of introducing CNG buses in Karachi. But this project has not moved beyond talks despite the fact that the previous government had approved a fund in its last days as payment of customs duty on the import of CNG bus by the private sector. So far no infrastructure has been created to facilitate plying of CNG buses in the city.
The Environment Policy was approved by the federal cabinet in July 2005 with the aim to reduce environment pollution by creating awareness among masses. But no progress has been made so far in this regard.
According to the report of World Health Organization (WHO), more than 30,000 people are dying every year of pollution related diseases like asthma, lung cancer and bronchitis, ENT and mental disorders.
It is all the more alarming that about 9,000 tons of chemical, oil and industrial effluent is being discharged in the Arabian Sea, which has polluted marine life up to 20 nautical miles.
Similarly, only 5,000 metric tons of total 8,000 tons of solid waste, generated in Karachi is disposed off property while rest is either dumped in localities of burnt in open space.
Ship breaking industry in Gadani is also polluting the sea through its chemical, metal and effluent without any check.
According to reports workers are being killed due to pollution, but their deaths are covered up by the management of the yard.
President NFEH M Naeem Qureshi has appealed the government to implement Environment Policy in letter and spirit in consultation with all stakeholders including representative bodies.
We urge the government to maintain EPAs with sufficient technical staff and they should have latest laboratories and analytical equipment and apparatus to check pollution levels. They should work in consultation with all stakeholders including industries, representative trade and industry bodies.
At the same time NEQS should be implemented to reduce level of pollution.
Environmental Tribunals should be more active.
Performance of EPAs must be monitored and their heads should be replaced with technical and professional persons.
We also appeal the authorities implement the long pending "mass transit system" in all major cities.
In addition, all public transport buses, taxis, rickshaws and heavy-duty trucks should be converted to CNG or LPG.
We also urged the administration to immediate stop mangrove cutting along coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan.
Previous government had introduced a clean drinking water program at cost of Rs3 billion to install water purification plants in every locality. Most of them are non-functional. We demand an inquiry into alleged embezzlement of this fund.
The government must encourage alternate energy projects including solar, wind and small dams to reduce dependence on thermal power generation and overcome energy crisis in the country.