Challenge for progress

Sep 24 - 30, 2007

Recently, the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) has directed the steel-melting furnaces operating in the Industrial Estate Islamabad to install efficient devices for the purpose of controlling industrial pollution in the federal capital, the population of which has already reached the mark of one million. Also, Pak-EPA has issued public notice for vehicular emission and decided to conduct public hearing, in each case, prior to grant of environmental approval to any industrial or commercial project in Islamabad---seeking comments from general public, in accordance with the environmental rules and regulations.

These are salutary measures, as it is never too late to address issues related to ever deteriorating environment in the country, even if it was in compliance with the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and not at own initiative of the Pak-EPA. Such actions however should not remain confined to Islamabad and prompt similar actions need to be taken countrywide expanding widely to all the industrial and infrastructure sectors, by the respective provincial Environmental Protection Agencies and departments.


Economic growth of a country is conversely proportional to the environmental degradation, and Pakistan is no exception. In recent years the environmental pollution, of all kinds, has assumed alarming proportions in the country. Though legal and regulatory framework for environmental protection exist since long, the weak enforcement and ineffective management, coupled with high population growth, has not been able to contain the pollution and environmental degradation which is growing with every passing day. Reports about polluted air, contaminated water and on-going deforestation in major cities paint a gloomy picture of the situation and exposes laxity on the part of the institutions, lack of political commitment and insensitivity of the society to achieving positive results. Pakistan therefore faces significant environmental challenges, at present and in coming years, particularly in the backdrop of government's focus on developing industrial, housing and infrastructure sectors in a big way.

Indeed, environment has not been on the government's priority plans. It is reflected in the slow pace of work done in this direction. Looking at the chronology of events, it is observed that Pakistan Environmental Protection Ordinance 1983 was made effective only after more than a decade, which is enacted now as Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997. The National Conservation Strategy was devised in 1992 and sets of National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) were adapted in 1993. Subsequently, the National Environmental Action Plan was formulated in 2001, whereas the National Environmental Policy of Pakistan was declared in June 2005. Likewise, the government is now preparing Drinking Water Policy, National Sanitation Policy and other environment-related policies. Environmental Tribunals have been set up and started functioning effective January 08, 2007, in compliance with the directive of the Supreme Court.


Understandably, these belated and cosmetic measures have failed to bring in any relief. Thus the National Environmental Action Plan to "achieving the goals of sustainable development through protection, conservation and reservation of Pakistan's environment" has miserably failed to achieve any progress, either in qualitative or quantitative terms, towards the specified goals. Consequently, the promise of ensuring "clean air, clean water, waste management and ecosystem management" remains unfulfilled and illusive so far. Every year, on June 05, the World Environment Day is observed in Pakistan, but without taking any concrete and effective measures to address the issues. Currently, the activities of Pak-EPA are practically limited to monitoring the baseline conditions in major urban areas.

The fact is that the environmental plans, programmes and projects are not adequately funded, in spite of availability of international agencies funding and cooperation. The government spends about US$ 17 million annually, which is hardly 0.04 per cent of total public-sector development programme, according to a report of the Sustainable Development Planning Institute (SDPI) that is partner to the Pak-EPA. On the other hand, an amount of $ 84 million is said to be required only to correct the current environmental problems. The cost of environmental neglect, in terms of health expenses (more than six million persons are hospitalised annually due to air pollution related illnesses), labour productivity and other factors, is enormous--to the extent of $ 1.8 billion a year. The World Bank estimates that about six percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is being lost on this account.

The deteriorating social and environmental indicators and other related figures are horrific and mind-boggling. Air pollution in Karachi and Lahore is estimated twenty-times higher than permissible limits as per World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, and continues to rise. In Lahore, seventy-percent of city water is contaminated. Pakistan generates 54,850 tons of solid waste per day. Fertiliser off-take has doubled since 1990-91 over 4 million tons whereas use of pesticides/insecticides has almost tripled, to the present level of 34,000 tons.


Industrial pollution, in particular, is playing havoc with the health and environment of the populace. Besides the vehicular emissions, the industrial pollutants-both effluents and emissions-- are grossly responsible for widespread environmental degradation. Industrial air and waste pollutants include gaseous pollutants, particulate pollution, fugitive emissions, waste or effluent and odours and noise. There are a number of methods employed and techniques adopted for controlling the industrial pollution. Gaseous pollutants can be controlled through absorption, which is the process of removal of one or more selected components from gaseous mixture, by making solution of gases in liquids. This is being done through absorption columns and absorption towers that are integrated part of the modern process equipment, such as in the chemical industry.

Adsorption is concentration of a substance, dissolved or suspended, on the surface of a solid. Common adsorbents are activated carbon, activated alumina, silica gel, charcoal and others. Purifying and drying of gases in industrial adsorption is done employing either in batch, fixed-bed or continuos concurrent operation. Condensation is the process of converting the gas or vapour to liquids, where combustion of waste or hazardous materials are involved. Examples of direct contact type condensers are spray condenser, jet condenser and barometric condenser and all types of heat exchangers.

Removal of particulate pollutants is through inertia separators that are used for the collection of medium and coarse sized particulate in different gases. Various types of cyclones, wet scrubbers, electrostatic precipitators and fabric filters are commonly used, such as in operations of boilers and chemical, cement and power generation industrial units. Fugitive emissions are caused by a variety of sources including those associated with industrial operations such as charging and tapping of steel or other metallurgical furnaces, crushing of mineral aggregates and others. These emissions are discharged to the atmosphere through forced or natural draught ventilation system, or captured through modern devices installed as part of the system.


Today, pollution control equipment is required to install in practically every industry. This becomes of great national significance in compliance with the many international conventions and agreements to which Pakistan is a signatory, such as "Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade" and "Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movement of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal". These include chemicals, metallurgical and mineral products processing industries, industries with combustion equipment like boilers, furnaces, kilns etc., incineration plants, thermal power plants and pharmaceutical industry.

In compliance with the Act 1997, it is obligatory/mandatory for the sponsors of all the development projects, in any economic sector, to conduct a comprehensive Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) or Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study, along with project feasibility study, and accordingly propose and implement mitigation remedial measures to ensure control of pollution and thus clean environment.

Pakistan's industrial sector is broad-based, covering textile, leather, fertiliser, chemicals, pharmaceutical, paper and board, electricals, food, sugar and other agriculture-related products, basic metals, non-metallic minerals, cement, automobile and light/heavy engineering industries. Technical expertise and technology is of foremost importance. The government needs to effectively implement an action plan to promote the use of environmental-friendly technology and equipment. The examples of successful applications of innovative technologies the world over include industrial use of plant (natural) dyes in textile processing, recycled plastic bags and waste/emission-free galvanising plants in engineering sector. One hopes, the National Industrial Policy, which is under preparation for the last eight years or so, will adequately address the industrial environmental issues too, when it is in place.

(The writer is former Chairman of State Engineering Corporation of the Ministry of Industries, Production and Special Initiatives, Government of Pakistan)