Rapid urbanization, imbalanced socio-economic development compound environmental issues
ISLAMABAD, June 4 (APP): The environment challenges and issues of Pakistan are primarily associated with an imbalanced social and economic development and compounded with rapid urbanization due to a shift of population from rural to urban areas in recent decades, says the Economic Survey issued here Friday.  According to the Survey, giving a thorough picture of national economy during the outgoing fiscal year 2009-10, all major cities of Pakistan face haphazard, unplanned expansion leading to increase in pollution.   HTML clipboard

“This unchecked growth has led to creation of slums areas around city peripheries and low lying area. Since the municipal authorities and utility service providers have limitations in extending their facilities, urban congestion is the prime reason of ever deteriorating ambient air and water quality, solid waste management and loss of biodiversity,” says the survey. 
Under the present scenario, the managers of Pakistan’s major urban centres are facing rising difficulties in developing their management plans to provide adequate water and sanitation facilities and health services to ensure a healthy living environment.
“Environmental degradation is fundamentally linked to poverty in Pakistan. Poverty is the main impediment in dealing with the environment related problems. There is an increasing demand on the already depleting natural resource base of the country,” according to the survey. 
This environment-poverty nexus cannot be ignored if effective and practical solutions to remedy environmental hazards are to be taken. Therefore, there has been a dire need to work on poverty alleviation. 
The Mid-Term Development Framework: 2005-10 (MTDF 2005-10) of the Planning Commission has been developed in line with the National Environment Action Plan (NEAP) objectives, and focuses on four core areas including clean air, clean water; solid waste management, and Ecosystem management.
Main factors causing degradation to air quality are rapidly growing energy demand and a fast growing transport sector.  In the cities, widespread use of low-quality fuel, combined with a dramatic expansion in the number of vehicles on roads, has led to significant air pollution problems. Air pollution levels in Pakistan’s most populated cities are high and climbing causing serious health issues.
Out of six percent of forest cover, targeted under the MTDF, the government has so far achieved 5.17% against 4.9 percent in 2004-05 and 11.3 percent of total area has been protected for conservation of wildlife.
Besides,  the number of vehicles using CNG fuel have mounted to 2,400,000 almost 44 percent of population has access to sanitation, 65 percent to clean water. Seven pollution monitoring stations have been set up, besides six regional offices of Environment Protection Agencies have been established.
According to the Economic Survey, several studies carried out by Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and the air quality data recorded by continuous monitoring stations in five capital cities confirmed presence of high concentration of suspended particulate matter.
The level of gases like Carbon Monoxide (CO), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Ozone (O3) and Hydrocarbon (HC) are still within safe limits though some pockets of high concentration are found in congested places, which give short term exposure to public.
The main causes of air pollution are abrupt increase in number of vehicles and inefficient automotive technology, use of unclean fuels, uncontrolled emission of industrial units, emission of brick kilns, burning of garbage and presence of loose dust. Motorcycles and rickshaws, due to their two stroke engines, are the most inefficient in burning fuel and contribute most to emissions.
The survey says that for the last ten years, the use of coal in the power sector has been decreasing. It may be due to the fact that a number of plants have now been converted to natural gas. Likewise, there has been reduction  in coal usage for domestic purposes.
Pakistan has become the largest user of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) in the world, as per the statistics issued by International Association of National Gas Vehicles on CNG. Presently, 3105 CNG stations are operating in the country and 2.4 million vehicles are using CNG as fuel. Besides, the government has planned to offer incentives to investors to introduce CNG buses in the major cities of the country.The Economic Survey reveals that the water pollution has steadily been increasing over the years and the sources of this pollution include the uncontrolled discharge of municipal as well as industrial wastes in water bodies, run off from agriculture fields where agrochemical usage has been increasing and other natural as well as anthropogenic activities taking place in the catchment areas.
According to the survey, 69 percent water is used in agriculture sector, 23 percent in industry and eight percent in domestic sector. After use, the remaining water becomes “wastewater” containing all kinds of toxic chemicals and biological contaminants. Municipal sewerage is a major source of pollution.  
“About 2 million wet tons of human excreta are annually produced in the urban sector of which around 50% goes into water bodies to pollute them. About 70% of biological load is generated by textile and beverage industry,” said the survey.
According to the survey, the National Conservation Strategy (NCS) indicated that almost 40% of deaths were related to water borne diseases.  Untreated wastewater from industries further aggravates the situation. About 8% of the total wastewater is treated and rest of the quantity is discharged untreated into different surface water resources like canals, rivers, lakes and sea.
Recently, Capital Development Authority (CDA) has installed a modern wastewater treatment plant in Islamabad which comply with the National Environment Quality Standards (NEQS).
Industry that has the largest potential of wastewater discharges mostly comprises of textile, tannery, paper and pulp. About 9000 million gallons of wastewater are daily discharged into water bodies in Punjab and Karachi.  
Inadequate water supply sanitation and hygiene result in high incidence of water and sanitation related diseases in Pakistan, which in-turn increase mortality rates and pose a major threat to the survival. It has been estimated that water, sanitation and hygiene related diseases cost Pakistan economy about Rs 112 billion per year over Rs 300 million a day, in terms of health costs and lost earning.
“Out of this, the cost associated with diarrhoeal diseases alone is estimated to range from Rs 55 to 80 billion per year,” the Survey reveals.
Forests are crucial for the well being of humanity.  They provide foundations for life on earth through ecological functions, by regulating the climate and water resources and by serving as habitants for plants and animals. Forests also furnish a wide range of essential goods such as wood, food, fodder and medicines in addition to opportunities for recreation, and other services. Forests are under pressure due to expanding human and livestock populations which frequently leads to conversion or degradations of forests into unsustainable forms of land use.
Climate change resulting from an increasing concentration of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere due to the use of fossil fuels and other human activities has become a major worldwide concern. It is particularly so for Pakistan because climate change is posing a direct threat to its water security, food security and energy security.  
The country’s vulnerability to such adverse impacts is likely to increase considerably in the coming decades as the average global temperature, which increased by 0.6 øC over the past century, is projected to increase further by 1.1 to 6.4 øC by the end of the current century.