Environmental degradation - lethargy may cost more
By Muhammad Aftab Zahoor
ISLAMABAD, Jan 10 (APP): Environmental degradation in the country continues to affect livelihoods and health increasing vulnerability of the poor to natural disasters and costing billions of rupees annually to national kitty.Urban and rural poor having meager or no access to basic facilities regrading environmental improvement and usually using fossil fuel as energy resource, are more prone to health hazards and ailments.

Surveys carried out in the country by Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA), Provincial EPAs and SUPARCO revealed presence of very high levels of suspended particulate matter (SPM) in major cities (about 6 times higher than the WHO’s guidelines).
As in rural areas, there is no mechanism for monitoring pollution level, the residents are more exposed to dust, smoke and particulate matter contamination.
Over the decades, environment of the country continued deteriorating costing billions to national kitty and affecting health and hygiene.
The World Bank, in its report in 2006 estimated the cost of environmental neglect and degradation around Rs. 365 billion annually. Experts consider that 60-70 percent cause of urban air quality degradation is due to vehicles.
“Every body least bothers about how much we are losing due to environmental degradation,” said an environmentalist, Sohail Khan.
Resident of Rawalpindi, Mr Sohail regretted the improper implementation of laws even Environmental Act 1997 and said, “apparently we lack political will and commitment to the cause.”
He urged awareness raising at grassroots and involvement of communities and called upon the government and other organizations working in the sector, to collectively move forward to take on this dilemma.
Almost all metropolitan cities have industrial estates where cluster of industries of different types exist and majority of cement, fertilizer, sugar units, power plants and steel furnaces located in the vicinity of towns, cause excessive air pollution.
Brick kilns are another source of pollution in many areas.  Use of low-grade coal and old tires in brick kilns generate dense black smoke (soot) and other kind of emissions.
Out of 6,634 registered industries in Pakistan, 1,228 are considered to be highly polluting.
Presently it is estimated that 54,888 tons of solid waste is generated in Pakistan every day, of which 50 percent remain uncollected.     
Since none of the cities has proper waste disposal system, even the waste collected is either dumped in low lying areas or along the road sides and set on fire. Burning of solid waste at low temperature not only generate particulate matters like CO, NOx but also produce dioxin, a persistent organic pollutant.
Regarding air pollution, data is generally available about ambient air quality focusing on outdoor air such as concentrations of SOx, NOs, CO, CO2, PM10 and PM 2.5. But, these key air pollutants are reported at selected urban locations only.
As indoor air pollution (IAP) has not been recognized as a hazard as yet, data is very sparse or even not available.
In rural areas biomass fuels meet about 86 percent of the total domestic energy requirements as 90 percent of rural and 50 percent of urban population depend on wood and other biomass fuels.
Indoor cooking and heating with biomass fuels or coal produces high level of indoor pollutants that is evident from ailment like acute respiratory infections and even lung cancer.
Environmental degradation eventually translates into socio-economic problems retarding development and growth and there is need to address environmental issues through policies and institutional reforms that create the right incentives for administrators to effectively enforce policies and for polluters to comply with regulations.
Director General Pak-EPA Asif Shuja Khan said, the government initiated a number of projects to control pollution but lot more is needed to be done.
He described the lack of proper implementation of laws and certain legal bottlenecks as one of the reasons behind continued pollution.
“We have installed air monitoring systems at big cities. We have found the air pollution level four to six times higher than prescribed limits,” he said.
Shuja agreed that pollution causes respiratory diseases, lung cancer, heart attack and even pre-mature deaths.
When asked about non-implementation of laws, he said, the Environment Ministry is taking and number of measures like capacity building of Environmental Tribunals, review of Environmental Act, appoint Environmental Magistrates and raising of Green Task Force for implementation of decisions.
People can only hope that these measures will be implemented as they have no other option.
But, if the ministry fails and the situation continues to aggravate, the present loss of Rs 365 billion may rise to another bench mark.
In view of present economic crunch and energy crisis, the authorities need to evolve prudent conservation strategies as water scarcity is already looming large on the country.
It is high time to tackle these problems failing which not only the environment would further deteriorate but also the food security of the country would be under severe threat.