Sep 22 - 28, 2008

It may not be wrong to say that environmental pollution has reached an alarming level in major cities of Pakistan. The real point of concern is the inability of concerned authorities to check rising level of pollution. The job of the civic agencies becomes even more difficult because of poor response of the citizens. The lack of political will and pressures from the civil society are the major hurdles in the implementation of environmental standards.

According to the experts, the issue of persistently rising level of carbon dioxide in the air in large cities could not be addressed because of the toothless regulators. One of the major contributors to air pollution is smoke emitting vehicles and emission from industries. Power plants using furnace oil and cement plants burning coal, openly defy National Environmental Quality Standards.

Though, Pakistan has introduced National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) in 1997, the progress is still very slow and implementation has been disappointing in case of industrial units, particularly tanneries. The reasons are: lack of political will, pressure from influential and corrupt. Environmental Tribunals, which were set up in the same year under Environment Act, have been inactive for years.


Sindh government and then City District Government Karachi had launched various campaigns to impose ban on polythene bags, but failed to achieve the desired results for various reasons. According to reports, about 500 metric tons of the total solid waste generated in the city every month is consisted of polythene bags.

Vehicular traffic alone contributes overwhelming percentage of total environment pollution in major cities. About half of the vehicles are not fit for running on the roads as they discharge thick smoke, mainly consisting of half-burnt fuel. It is surprising that despite the orders of Sindh High Court against thick smoke emitting buses, no action has been taken yet. More than 2 million vehicles are running on the roads in Karachi which is more than half of country's total vehicular population.

Poorly maintained vehicles and aging public transport fleet account for most of the vehicular emissions and it would be wise to make mandatory inspection and maintenance of gross polluting vehicles as being vital to pollution prevention programs. Controlling smoke pollution is the collective responsibility of the motor vehicles examiners, the transport authority and the traffic police. However, the success has been far from satisfactory because of lack of will and rampant corruption. Developing pollution control programs not only requires financial commitment and transparency but also requires participation of citizens, who view such programs as extortionist measures carried out by the state.

The pollution is having an extremely negative impact on the health, most particularly that of children. According to some of the studies various types of pollutions not only cause death of hundreds and thousands of people but millions lives in constant state of trauma. Though, it is often said that air pollution is a major cause of sickness among the citizens the worst is, use of fuel containing high percentage of lead. The impact of pollution on health can be seen every day. More and more people are coming to hospitals suffering from respiratory ailments, and many more children than before have breathing disorders or asthma. Doctors are also concerned about rising levels of lead in the blood caused by air-borne particulates. The Pakistan Medical Research Council survey had found dangerously high levels of lead in the blood of people living in major cities.


Water becomes unfit for consumption or polluted when it contains materials that make it unsuitable for a given use. Fresh water is fundamental to the survival of humans and most other land-based life forms. Ninety seven per cent of the earth's water is the salt water of oceans and seas. Most of the remaining 3 per cent is in polar ice caps, glaciers, the atmosphere or underground and hard to reach. Less than half a percent is available for use. This water supply is maintained by water evaporating from oceans and lakes and then falling to the earth as rain in a process called the 'water cycle'.

However, growing population, increased economic activity and industrialization has resulted in an increased demand for fresh water. In addition, rapid urbanization is changing patterns of water consumption. This has resulted in gross misuse of water resources. Discharging untreated sewage and chemical wastes directly into rivers, lakes and drains has become a habit. Water reservoirs can no longer cope with the increasing pollution load.

Bulk of the fresh water is being used by the agricultural sector but depleted or badly maintained irrigation system also causes water logging and salinity. This happens when the water table rises close to the surface of the soil. If plants do not use this water, it evaporates, leaving salts behind. Even in uncultivated, barren lands, a water table within 2 meters of the surface can cause salinity in the soil. If irrigation water containing high levels of contaminants evaporates, it can result in damage to the soil.

The major share of drinking water is from the natural ground water aquifer. Groundwater becomes contaminated when chemicals from surface water seep into soil and come in contact with the flowing groundwater. The movement of groundwater is through open spaces in soil and rock layers, which is usually very slow, indicating a very low dilution of contaminants. Reportedly underground water has been seriously contaminated and not fit for human consumption. Pollution was found to a depth ranging from 250 to 750 feet.


Municipal sewage is a major source of pollution. Millions of tons of million human excreta are annually produced in the urban sector of which around 50% go into water bodies to pollute them. According to reports almost 40% of deaths are related to water borne diseases. Domestic wastewater collects on the streets and in low-lying areas. The situation is further aggravated by the addition of untreated wastes from small-scale industries.

In Pakistan, drinking water supply lines and open sewage drains in the streets are laid side by side. As a result, water is frequently contaminated due to leakage from these pipelines. Most main sewers are 5-20 feet below ground level and are made of 10ft cement sections linked without proper safety seals. Poor connections combined with deteriorating low quality sewer pipes cause a lot of leakage. This outflow from sewer mixes with the water table and the contamination is carried to deeper levels. Hence the ground water which was often considered safe in now adulterated with everything from PCBs, lead, cyanides, mercury, solvents, hydrocarbon compounds, hospital and pharmaceutical industry waste.

Industrial wastewater contains tall sorts of toxic chemicals. It is alarming that most industries have been started without proper planning and waste water treatment plants. They just dump the highly toxin and untreated toxic effluents in nearby drains, canals or rivers. Lahore, Faisalabad, Karachi, Sialkot contribute major pollution loads into their water bodies.

According the proceedings of an International Symposium by CEWR in 1993, at that time 9000 million gallons of wastewater having 20,000 tons of BOD5 loading were daily discharged into water bodies from the industrial sector. Automobile service stations are another major contributor to surface water pollution. Untreated oil, grease and dirt find its way into nearby canals and rivers where it damages the ecosystem.

Leaching is the process where chemicals from a material dissolve into water while it is being filtered through that material. The resulting mixture is called leachate consisting of residues from decomposed organic matter and metals. Major contributors to leachate are municipal solid waste, hospital waste, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, stagnant ponds, toxic industrial waste, and sewage. Rusting cans, discarded batteries and appliances, paints, pesticides, cleaning fluids, newspaper inks, and other chemicals also add to the toxic mixture of leachate.

Excessive and uncontrolled use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides promotes contaminated agricultural run off. This not only pollutes the surface drains but the water trickling down to lower layers of soil causes a severe contamination of the natural aquifer. Over abstraction of groundwater prompts recharge from the surface water drains, which themselves are severely contaminated.

The some reports 25-30% of all hospital admissions are connected to water borne bacterial and parasitic conditions, with 60% of infant deaths caused by water infections. The long-term effects on human health of pesticides and other pollutants include colon and bladder cancer, miscarriage, birth defects, deformation of bones, and sterility.

Contamination of fresh water with radionuclide, which can result from mining, testing, disposal and manufacturing of radioactive material, as well as transportation accidents, has led to increased incidences of cancer, developmental abnormalities and death. Cesspools of stagnant dirty water, both in rural and urban areas, account for a large number of deaths caused by potentially fatal diseases like cholera, malaria, dysentery and typhoid.

Nitrate concentration in water above 45mg/litre makes it unfit for drinking by infants. The nitrates are reduced in body to nitrites and cause a serious blood condition called the "Blue Baby Syndrome". Higher concentrations of nitrate cause gastric cancer. Untreated and highly toxic industrial sewage is also used for irrigation near major cities. This contaminates crops and consequently affects consumers.


Noise pollution is one of the least talked about but most lethal pollutions. Since it is not visible hardly any effort has been made to quantify its level. It is omni present, from homes to industrial and commercial establishments. The least talked about trauma ranges from gradual loss of patience and people getting irritated on the smallest pretext to serious disorder of the human nervous system.

The civilized people abstain from blowing horns while driving but Pakistanis are notorious for installing 'pressure horns' in their vehicles and blowing these close to schools and hospitals. Although, civic agencies have installed signs near schools and hospitals but noise pollution is highest near these.


First people have to be taught that this is 'our plant' and the present generation has the responsibility to keep it least polluted for the next generation. The point also has to be made clear that the government alone cannot control and contain environmental degradation. Every citizen has to play his/her role.

It is often said that the country needs stringent environment protection laws. But the fact is that the prevailing laws are not implemented in letter and spirit. When the civic agencies do not collect garbage for days, hospital wastes are burnt in open and overflowing sewerage is common, citizens also take the full liberty of spreading the litter.