SHAMSUL GHANI (shams_ghani@hotmail.com)
Sep 22 - 28, 2008

The process of Environmental Degradation (ED) takes place when natural resources like air, water and soil either start getting depleted or suffer from quality degradation. The destruction of ecosystem and extinction of wildlife are also part of ED; such degradation may appear to concern plant and animal life, but it is known to ultimately influence the human life. Excessive fishing or oil-spills may disturb the delicate marine system and unlimited animal hunting and unplanned deforestation may alter the land ecosystem. All such irresponsible acts culminate not only in the extinction of certain plant and animal species but they also cause shrinkage in human food resources. Destruction of natural habitats and depletion of natural resources are the two main components of ED. The depletion or quality degradation of natural resources, besides creating food scarcity, causes human diseases which in the poor regions turn out to be terminal. The incidence of ED is heavier in economically deficient societies. More than eleven million children die worldwide annually from ED induced diseases. The rich nations, by investing in environment up-gradation, are in fact investing in their future. The poor nations need this investment to subsist in the world of to-day. Wealth and literacy of a particular nation are combined together to create awareness and capacity to forestall any damaging depletion or degradation of its environmental assets. Poor nations ever busy with subsistence issues remain dangerously oblivious of the fatal environmental issues. For them, investment in environment is a luxury they can't afford. An indifferent action response entrenches poor nations deeper into the morass of economic and social deprivation.

The United Nation's Environment Program (UNEP) has identified following ten key environmental issues facing the world:

1. Climate change. 2. Land degradation. 3. Forest loss and degradation. 4. Biodiversity loss. 5. Habitat fragmentation. 6. Freshwater access and pollution. 7. Marine and coastal zones degradation. 8. Atmospheric pollution. 9. Urban and industrial contamination. 10. Resource waste

The priority of action response often varies from region to region and in accordance with the economic status of a particular nation. According to Ashbindu Singh, Regional Coordinator UNEP Division, "Policy response is often constrained in developing regions by weak institutions, insufficient human and financial resources, ineffective legislation and enforcement capabilities. An analysis of policy responses indicates that typically these responses focus first on institutional and constitutional issues, and then on the implementation and enforcement of often disjointed sectoral environmental legislation and regulations."


A World Bank report on Pakistan's environmental issues, titled Strategic Country Environment Assessment (SCEA) states that environmental degradation in Pakistan has already translated into socio-economic problems and that addressing these problems would pay economic dividends strengthening the growth potential and productivity of natural assets and lowering the incidence of disease. The urgency of addressing these problems has been felt by the authors of the report. According to the conservative estimates, ED costs the country almost 6 per cent of GDP 365 billion in rupee value. The most predominant causes of the said environmental damage are:

1. Illness and premature mortality caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution, accounting for 50 per cent of the total estimated damage.

2. Diarrhea pathos and typhoid caused by inadequate and contaminated water supply and low quality sanitation and hygiene. The incidence of loss caused by this factor works out to 30 per cent of the total estimated damage.

3. Soil degradation and the resultant low quality and shrinking agricultural activity.

Besides basic environmental deficiencies, accelerated economic growth during the last 5-6 years and high urbanization rate have posed additional environmental challenges such as water pollution, toxic emissions and substandard treatment of solid waste. Pakistan's record of policy response on environmental issues from National Conservation Strategy 1992 through up to the National Environment Program of 2005 - has been up to the mark. The action response deficit ensues from administrative failures on implementation front.


Right economic policy framework can take care of many environmental issues facing us. Economic prudence decrees immediate construction of water dams followed by a manifold increase in hydropower generation. Additional coal-based power generation would make us energy surplus and independent of oil-based energy. Stringent international standards, however, will have to be adopted to control emissions from coal-based energy generation activities. Simultaneously, the agriculture sector should be brought under investment hike and technological improvement regimes. This simple economic strategy will accrue the following social and economic benefits:

1. With the availability of sufficient irrigation water and necessary investment support, the agriculture sector will get the much needed boost. The improved farm and seed technology coupled with a phased increase in the cultivable area will make us food surplus. The soil degradation and reduced agricultural activity problem will thus be taken care of.

2. Food and energy surpluses coupled with the much reduced dependence on oil will ease up our current account and foreign reserve positions. We can now move ahead with a focus on gas sector giving it boost through much required additional investment. By scaling up the known reserves' inventory and hiking gas output, we can greatly reduce the use of petrol and diesel by the transport sector. Development of urban mass transit systems and extended use of gas as transport fuel will reduce the urban air pollution to surprisingly low limits.

3. Much needed land reforms and adequate administrative measures will ensure a break in the ongoing deforestation process. Existing in economic comforts, we will be well positioned to generously invest in environmental up-gradation programs like improvement of ecosystem and preservation of wildlife.