AIR POLLUTION - AN ECONOMIC DEFLATOR
SHAMSUL GHANI (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sep 22 - 28, 2008
A World Bank report released in September 2007 with the title Pakistan; Strategic Country Environment Assessment (SCEA) states that environmental and resource damages amount to Rs.365 billion (US $ 5 to 6 billion), equivalent of 6 per cent of GDP, every year. About 50 percent of the damage is attributable to the air pollution, both indoor and outdoor, that causes diseases and premature mortality. According to the report, the incidence of this damage falls disproportionately on the poor. Since the majority of air pollution victims constitutes low income families of workers, laborers and daily wage earners, the economy suffers in terms of low productivity and higher health care cost.
The opening paragraph of the executive summary of the report - a severe blow to the perception of the critics of ousted economic managers - states:
"Pakistan is the most urbanized country in South Asia, with a booming economy. Economic reforms have paid their dividend and the country has achieved record growth rates, buoyant levels of investment and sustainable fiscal balances. Long term growth rates too have been reasonable, averaging 2.6 per cent since 1960, exceeding most other countries in South Asia. Despite this remarkable record, however, the natural resource base is stressed and the burden of disease remains high, threatening to undermine growth prospects".
Air pollution, water contamination and overall economic degradation have been the perpetual threats to our economy. Their killing influences keep eating away our economic and human resources. Being basically an agro economy, Pakistan is highly dependent on natural resource base. Despite having the gift of rivers, the successive governments' failure to construct dams has made the farm community heavily dependent on rain water. Living with this dilemma in a decade-old oppressive feudal system forces the poor farmer to abandon his traditional way of livelihood by opting for urban migration. The population shift not only makes the dwindling agro sector poorer but also puts additional burden on urban facilities. The resultant human congestion coupled with the industrial and vehicular toxic emissions scale up the indoor and outdoor air pollutions to much higher levels. Congestion resulting from too little space occupied by too many dwellers causes high emission of carbon dioxide and greater consumption of oxygen. This condition is injurious to human health and can result in a number of diseases. Traffic jams, a natural outcome of high traffic density and use of high emission fuel cause copious outflow of carbon monoxide which is not only a health hazard but also results in entrained soot pollution giving rise to the formation of brown clouds.
The provincial capitals take most of the brunt of urban migration. While Karachi is constantly under air pollution threat ensuing from population influx and higher vehicular and industrial emissions, Lahore has recorded the highest air pollution in June 2008, according to an EPA report. The hazards carried by the contaminated air include ozone, sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides and respiration dusts. According to the EPA report, the hazardous ingredients contained in the polluted air of Lahore during a particular test period were much higher than the WHO specifications. The same is true for other major urban cities where the airborne particulate matter exceeds the safe levels. While ozone and sulfur dioxide are known to produce serious respiratory illnesses, nitrous oxides can cause cardiovascular problems and cancer. Sulfur dioxide, after taking vapor form, can produce acid rain resulting in crop damage. The respiration dust also causes serious respiratory problems. Around 30,000 deaths, taking place in Pakistan every year, result from air pollution. Besides human resource loss, direct economic loss also results from toxic emissions taking the form of 'brown clouds'. A NASA report released during recent years warns of the perpetual presence of brown clouds in Asia. These clouds are known to have already caused damage to Indian rice crops, and can move to Pakistani horizons any time.
AIR POLLUTION CONTROL
Higher economic growth and rising rate of urbanization create development concerns like air and water pollution and solid waste disposal. Urbanization and economic development call for effective environment control policies both at federal and provincial levels. According to the World Bank report SCEA, Pakistan has done a great deal towards policy formulation on environmental concerns ñ from National Conservation Strategy of 1992 through to the adoption of a National Environment Policy (NEP) of 2005. The policy implementation, however, leaves much to be desired. According to the report, "partnerships for clean air" will have to be created at different federal, provincial and municipal levels. Pakistan Clean Air Program (PCAP) will require coordination between multiple tiers and sectors of government. EPA shall be responsible for setting air quality and emission standards. Implementation of these standards will be the responsibility of provincial environment control authorities. Integrated action plans will be prepared at provinces for clean air in the industry, energy, fuel and transport sectors Municipal authorities or City District Governments will integrate the air quality management and urban planning. While concluding the executive summary of the report, the World Bank has offered investment support to the Ministry of Environment for its PCAP. The National Environment Program, NEP is also positioned to get technical assistance from the Bank for the development of provincial action plans.
As it should be, SCEA is a well-prepared informative document with lot of World Bank heart and brain going in it - logical and realistic presentation laced with an offer for technical and monetary support. Pakistan, with 60 per cent of its population dependent on natural resources - agricultural soils, water, rangeland and forests - and carrying huge social deficits of low-literacy, corruption and high poverty can hardly benefit from such reports. Countless anomalies will surface when it comes to the implementation of recommended measures. For example, when EPA recommended higher tax on over-used vehicles, it conveniently forgot that who the users of these vehicles were. We cannot think of removing such vehicles by simply penalizing their poor owners. Perhaps, first we will have to develop a mass transit system to facilitate phased exit of air polluting vehicles.
KARACHI TO BE A GREEN JUNGLE LIKE SINGAPORE
The city government is endeavoring to turn Karachi into a green jungle on the pattern of Singapore to achieve three pronged goals i.e. contain pollution, add beauty to the city and develop a healthy atmosphere.
The Asian Development Bank had sponsored a study on growth of greenery and trees in Karachi . Giving his remark on the study conducted regarding green Karachi , Syed Mustafa Kamal, Nazim Karachi said that in the given climatic conditions of Karachi plantation of trees could be more feasible as again focusing on greenery of grass pastures.
While emphasizing the importance of trees in human life and to control air pollution
Syed Mustafa Kamal disclosed that under the campaign of turning Karachi into a green jungle, the city government has planted more than 18500,000 trees in Karachi .
In fact, efforts to make Karachi a green city have been initiated by the city government for the first time in the history of Pakistan . He however expressed his concerns over protection of trees in Karachi in particular and in Pakistan in general. Actually there is no legal cover for the protection of trees. In fact, law should be made to punish the persons who will destroy of cut the green trees. At this juncture, the city government cannot take any punitive action against guilty of cutting the green trees. Hence he emphasized for legislation enabling the city government to take the guilty of cutting the trees to the book and law to punish in such cases.
The city Nazim said that all the major and developed cities give a great deal of importance to trees and even in case of important development projects no existing tree would be allowed to remove unless it was recommended by a team of experts and protectors.
City Nazim said that the city government is engaged in development the largest park of Asia at Gutter Garden in Karachi . So far 60 percent area of the said location has been converted into a beautiful garden. He expressed the hope that Karachi would give an aerial view of a thick green jungle in next ten years. He said that the development of Layari Express Way is miracle like work which would address the traffic congestion to a great extent. He said after Layari River , the city government was intended to develop the same express way on the banks of Malir River .
At present around 400 million tons of polluted water is being driving in the sea which has destroyed the ecology and marine line alongside the coastal line of Karachi. He strongly recommended that besides setting up water treatment plant to utilize the toxic water productively and save the marine life, there is a need to develop a green belt alongside the coastal line of Karachi . He said only those trees should be planted who have the capacity to weather the rough sea winds and sea humidity to survive in rough weather conditions.
The campaign to make Karachi green at official level with a serious focus will be a gift for the people of Pakistan and for the people in this region.