Multimedia environmental problems
Engineer Musharib Khan and Dr Zahid Mahmood Khan
A World Bank report revealed that overall environmental degradation costs Pakistan at least six percent of GDP, and these costs fall disproportionately upon the poor
The UN Conference on the Human Environment 1972, held in Stockholm, Sweden, is marked as the turning point in the rapid development of international environmental awareness and activism. The establishment of the Environment and Urban Affairs Division (EUAD) within the ministry of Housing and Works in 1974 was Pakistan’s reaction to the world’s growing environmental concerns. It essentially was the ‘react-and-cure’ approach, because the remedial measures were taken only after practically witnessing the substantial losses owing to environmental degradation. This reactive approach, though necessary at times, is not always the best option, and may potentially be replaced by the ‘proactive’ approach, which is based on the maxim ‘prevention is better than cure’. A National Conservation Strategy (NCS) was launched in 1991, which provided a broader framework to address environmental concerns in the country. The Ministry of Environment, Local Government and Rural Development, earlier named as Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Wildlife, was established in 1994. The Federal Environment Ministry of Pakistan was established in 1975, Pakistan Environmental Protection Council in 1984 and Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) in 1993.
Most environmental problems cross the air-water-soil boundary. For example, emission of sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere (air pollution) causes acid rain, which washes out these pollutants from the atmosphere, but in turn pollutes water bodies (water pollution) and changes the soil chemistry (land pollution), which ultimately results in the impairment, and in some cases, death of fish and vegetation. Likewise, if solid waste is improperly dumped into land, it causes both water pollution (due to the leachate percolation) and air pollution (particulate matter and the gaseous expulsion from the site). The only solution to such problems is to adopt a ‘multimedia approach’, which is also known as ‘systems approach’, i.e. to look at all interrelated parts and their effects on one another. Environmental systems must always be looked in a larger perspective and in a holistic way. Unfortunately, this very basic rule of thumb has been completely neglected whenever it has come to the placement of environment as a ministry, division or agency.
The environmental evolution in the country, briefly outlined in the beginning, indicates that there has been a lot of confusion regarding the position and status of environment in the governmental structure. In the beginning, it was associated with urban affairs but later on, it was intermingled with the rural sector. Moreover, despite the opposition of many renowned environmental experts of the country, Pakistan’s federal Ministry of Environment was devolved on June 30, 2011 to the provincial level due to the passing of the 18th Amendment. It is worth mentioning here that in the NCS, it was explicitly reported that the placement of EUAD as an ‘attached department’ in a line ministry always kept its authority limited to act across departmental lines. Astoundingly, the same mistake has been repeated after about 40 years. Pak-EPA is now an attached department of the Ministry of Climate Change. Provincial Environmental Protection Departments (EPDs) do exist, but the environment is something that can hardly be dealt with in isolation; it is better to take it in its entirety. The leftover vacuum of a central environmental ministry is deepening with each passing day.
A World Bank report revealed that overall environmental degradation costs Pakistan at least six percent of GDP, and these costs fall disproportionately upon the poor. Moreover, a recent study by the Water and Sanitation Programme (2012) revealed that the total economic impact on health only due to contaminated water and poor sanitation is estimated to cost 299.55 billion rupees, which was equivalent to 3.43 percent of GDP. The environmental situation further seems to aggravate with the rapid increase in population, urbanisation and industrialisation, and the consequent stress exertion on finite limited resources of the country.
The need for a central apex environmental ministry is obviously crucial for the comprehensive formulation of integrated environmental policies, strategies, long-term plans, and coordination among the provincial EPDs. Institutional strengthening, targeted research at universities and R&D organisations, and environment-related mass awareness are a few out of the many steps need to be taken without any further delay. Fortunately, substantial environmental legislation has been done over the years, and now a number of laws and policies exist; only a rigorous implementation and compliance is needed urgently. For the environment is who we are and what we live in; only a healthy environment is the insurance of our survival and that of our future generations.
The economic impacts of inadequate sanitation in Pakistan. Water and sanitation programme (2012).
Pakistan Strategic Country Environmental Assessment. South Asia environment and social development unit. Document of the World Bank (2006).
The Pakistan National Conservation Strategy (1991).
The writers are faculty members at the Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The Express Tribune