Polluting Murree Hills
By: Prof. Farakh A Khan
Not just Murree, the area as a whole needs in-depth scientific studies of production of waste and its impact on water in the area
Waste (solid waste and excreta) management should be a civil society and government priority to save our future environment with unabated population increase. I was surprised to learn that there is a Pakistan Environment Protection Act 1997 in place yet we do not see any decrease in waste production or its management. Provincial Environment Protection Agencies are operative in each province but their role in performing their functions is dubious. All our major cities are heavily polluted and the problem is multiplying. With poor waste management, our drinking water is also badly polluted.
In the context of Murree, solid waste includes plastics, paper, textile, glass, metal (these may be collectively called garbage) and organic waste (human excreta and food leftovers). Hospital waste is minimal but needs to be properly disposed off. Collection of garbage is the easy part but disposal of the collected garbage is not simple. Today garbage is simply dumped in the khud, called landfill. This open landfill has its own impact on the environment since it is exposed to rain and snow. The pollutants of landfill find their way into streams, reservoirs and springs with disastrous consequences on drinking water. Burning of solid waste in incinerators creates atmospheric pollution and hence not acceptable.
Making a semi-aerobic landfill is an efficient way of solid waste disposal but has not been tried in Pakistan. On the other hand, burning solid waste under controlled conditions can generate electricity. Both these options will be difficult to maintain and run. It is possible that we will have to find new mini Rental Power Plants.
Unfortunately, we have no data on waste disposal of Murree. It would be pertinent to highlight the case of River Ravi. The total length of Ravi is 422 miles and has a discharge of 0.94 Million Acre Feet (MAF), and it is now dumping ground of municipal and industrial waste. It receives Mahmood Booti drain, Sukh Naher Drain, Shadbagh Drain, Shahdara Town Pumping Station, Forest Colony Pumping Station, Furakhabad Drain, Buddha Ravi, Main Out-Fall Drain, Gulshan-e-Ravi Drain, and Babu Sabu Drain. Then there are industrial-cum-sewerage drains. These are Hudiara Drain, Deg Nallah, Faisalabad, Samundry Drain, Faisalabad, Sukhwara Drain, Sahiwal, and Gojra Drain, TT Singh. These drains and others throw 1,810 cusecs of municipal sewage and toxic industrial waste into Ravi. At the new Ravi Bridge, the water oxygen level is too low to support aquatic life. The WASA and LDA under court pressure have agreed to establish sewerage treatment plants (Raza, Ali, Ravi threatens aquatic life, groundwater, The News, February 17, 2009). Since early 1980s, during winters, the Ravi has been an open sewage discharging hydrogen sulphide. Civil society and government have ignored the issue of industrial waste and sewage dumping into Ravi.
Other rivers and canals in Punjab are not doing any better. According to Environmental Protection Department at 15 points, toxic industrial waste and municipal sewerage is being thrown into River Chenab. This is calculated as 9,000 million gallons of wastewater carrying 20,000 tons of BOD5. The upper Jhelum canal is also bringing in wastewater. The wastewater from Multan city was the worst since there is no treatment plant (The News, February 25, 2009).
The mountains of Pakistan are a fragile ecosystem that needs careful handling. In this context, human excreta disposal is of concern. Majority of Pakistanis do not have access to toilets. In India, 87 percent in urban areas and 33 percent in rural areas have access to toilets. However, this is not the end of the story. Most of the sewage from cities goes into lakes and rivers untreated. Only Surat has a system of producing electricity from sewage (Acharya, Keya. India drowns in its own waste. The Nation/Asia Times Online, August 4, 2012). With increase in population, the environment in the mountain areas has been badly hit. Due to lack of proper toilets, raw sewage is drained into nallahs and eventually into rivers, springs and reservoirs. The system of ‘septic tanks’ for the houses may not be according to specifications and are polluting the ground water. The water supply of Murree is thus highly polluted and not fit for human consumption. Rather than fixing the water-contamination problem, government has resorted to establishing water filtration plants for drinking water.
Not just Murree, the area as a whole needs in-depth scientific studies of production of waste and its impact on water in the area. We should also study the methods of environmentally friendly disposal. Scholars have prepared in-depth analysis of ‘Solid waste and water quality management models for Sagamatha National Park and buffer zone, Nepal’ (March 2010). Our model would be different and within our resources. There is no need to import ‘experts’ in this field. However, we could ask for help from Hunza model, which would be much more appropriate for Murree town and tehsil.