The environmental time bomb is ticking away
Karachi: Today, June 5, has been designated as the World Environment Day. One is in a quandary to decide as to whether the day should be celebrated or solemnly observed. Perhaps, if we were to rack our brains and ponder the question, the latter would be the answer.
In fact, the perceptive among us would not even have to rack their brains. A look at our burgeoning cities with their lopsided expansion makes things clear. Before independence, it was said that the two cleanest and most beautiful cities of the sub-continent were Karachi and Bangalore.
None from the present young generation of 20 million Karachiites could even believe this statement given all the squalor one sees around him. The blast of thick diesel fumes from rickety vehicles in crowded areas, the noise pollution and all these are environmental disasters that engulf one.
However, what is most pathetic is the fact that something as vicious as the class divide is so very visible. While the stinking rich and the rulers live on islands of extreme affluence and swank living conditions, the teeming masses are made to live amid squalor and poverty – an inseparable characteristic of capitalism.
While they live on their islands of perfection, the teeming poor are made to writhe in their privations. The state of other cities is not any better either. Urban decay is a characteristic of almost all Third World countries and, in many cases, developed ones too. It poses a lethal health hazard to the residents’ health.
However, Karachi is just a microcosm of the global situation. Let us take the case of our dear homeland of Pakistan, the galloping pace at which the forest cover is vanishing, the way environmental damage has been caused by the civil war in a neighbouring country in the 80s and, later, the war on terror.
In the former case, refugees fleeing the fighting in that country swamped Pakistan and chopped off our forests for their fuel wood needs. While even a pint-sized, highly industrialised country such as the United Kingdom has 30 percent of its land mass under forest, Pakistan has four percent forest land and, that too, is rapidly diminishing on account of industrialization and urbanisation.
According to a survey conducted by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics back in the 80s, 3.3 million acres of Pakistan’s arable land capitulated to urbanisation in the form of townships, railway halts, housing colonies and others between 1980 and 1983.
Those of us old enough would remember the countryside between Lahore and Gujranwala, forty-two miles of unspoilt, pristine greenery home to the country’s largest rice-growing area, which is now home to mammoth factories.
While prior to this proliferation of factories the area was supplying rice to the whole country, including the former eastern wing, today it is just fattening the coffers of a few industrialist families. All this as those who lived off tilling that land were displaced and had to look for greener pastures in the urban areas, adding to urban squalor.
Going beyond our territorial confines, the situation is as dismal. The global warming that today is gripping our planet, causing, among other things the rising of ocean levels. In another five years, the picturesque Pacific island of Tuvalu will have disappeared under the sea forever.
Rising temperatures have caused freak storms and affected the agricultural produce on an already food–deficient planet. The Amazon rainforests which once were a temperating influence on theclimate of the area are disappearing into eternity, thanks to the avarice of the builders and “developers” and their mad race to reap the quick buck.The hole in the ozone layer over the South Pole which will allow the sun’s ultra-violet rays to reach the planet unfiltered are likely to increase the incidence of skin cancer.
Today, the world is confronted with umpteen ecological issues. So under these circumstances, it certainly remains to be seen as to whether this day should be celebrated or solemnly observed.
This is the quandary we are confronted with. What exacerbates the crisis is the class discrimination and the selfish economic systems that have gripped the world today. All one could say is: hurry. The environmental time bomb is ticking away.