FOZIA AROOJ (fozia.arooj@hotmail.com)
Sep 22 - 28, 2008

Pollution is the contamination of earth's environment with materials that interfere with human health, the quality of life, or the natural functioning of ecosystems (living organisms and their physical surroundings). According to Asian Development Bank about 22,000 people are losing their lives to pollution every year in Pakistan. The situation is getting bleaker because adequate support and regulatory measures are not in place in Pakistan. Total costs associated with deaths and sickness caused by increased levels of particulate matter amount to Rs65 billion annually or approximately one per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product.

Pollution has a dramatic effect on natural resources. It can impair or destroy ecosystem functions. Moreover, because of the complex relationships among the many types of organisms and ecosystems, environmental contamination may have far-reaching consequences that are not immediately obvious or that are difficult to predict. Little attention was paid to pollution and environmental issues in Pakistan until the early 1990s.

A major effect of pollution on economy is the tremendous cost of pollution cleanup and prevention. The global effort to control emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas produced from the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal or oil, or of other organic materials like wood, is one such example. The cost of maintaining annual national carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels is estimated to be 2 percent of the gross domestic product for developed countries.

In addition to its effects on the economy, health, and natural resources, pollution has social implications. Research has shown that low-income populations and minorities do not receive the same protection from environmental contamination as do higher-income communities. Toxic waste incinerators, chemical plants, and solid waste dumps are often located in low-income communities because of a lack of organized, informed community involvement in municipal decision-making processes.



Air pollution in Pakistan's major cities is among the highest in the world. Dust and smoke particles are "generally twice the world average" and "five times" higher than the developed world. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) officials blame the unusually high levels of pollutants such as ozone, sulphur dioxide, respirable dusts and nitrogen oxides on high traffic density combined with bright sunlight and high temperatures, while recommending stricter control of traffic and higher taxation for older vehicles as a possible solution. In the cities, widespread use of low quality fuel, combined with a dramatic expansion in the number of vehicles on the roads, has led to significant air pollution problems. The government has been encouraging the use of vehicles powered by the less polluting compressed natural gas (CNG). At present, CNG vehicles in Pakistan are estimated at just under one million, making Pakistan's CNG fleet the third largest in the world after Argentina and Brazil.

Besides air pollution smoking significantly harms almost every major organ of the body and has been directly linked to leukemia, cataracts, pneumonia and cancers of kidney, cervix, pancreas and stomach. The latest report by the EPA shows that the air quality monitoring station at Lower Mall (Town Hall Lahore) has given readings of 127.4ug/m3 (microgrammes per metre cubed) of ozone, which exceeds the international World Health Organisation guidelines of 100ug/m3, while the level of sulphur dioxide stands at 56.40ug/m3 over a 24-hour period over three times the WHO guideline of 20ug/m3. Ozone is a leading cause of respiratory illnesses such as throat and lung irritation, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and headaches. Sulphur dioxide, besides causing acid rain, also leads to other respiratory illnesses, while nitrous oxides have been linked to cardiovascular problems and cancer.

In small cities the air has hazardous nitrogen oxides and particulates much higher than the limits recommended by the World Health Organization. Unplanned industrialization and housing and inefficiencies of various government departments have added to environmental pollution. As a result, the number of people visiting the hospitals has increased by 100%.

The major reasons for air pollution is described as "poor motor examination system", "no standard of [emissions levels]", traffic jams at crossings, and high density of traffic on the road. Though there is less sunlight and heat during winter, air pollutants disperse less due to "unfavorable meteorological conditions".

Analysts recommend a higher road tax premium for older vehicles, and state that "every vehicle must pass emission standard criteria before coming on the road". To implement this, the motor workshops are to be equipped with emission testing kits and vehicles are routinely tuned. They advocate a switch-over to CNG and a public sensitization drive about the health impacts of various pollutants. It is also recommended to launch an effective campaign against fuel adulteration and an efficient mass transport system as a fundamental step.


Water pollution is rampant in domestic water supply as well as in rivers and lakes and sea also. During a survey from different areas of some cities of Pakistan 20 samples of drinking water were taken for examination and all found unfit for human consumption. 12 of them were deficient in calcium, 14 were deficient in magnesium, chloride and nitrate and a few had the higher ratio of hazardous total dissolved solid and selenium. According to Soil and Water Testing Research Laboratory, 11 of the 20 underground water samples (for irrigation) were found unfit because they had excessive sodium absorption ratio and residual sodium bicarbonates, while 35% of the land had the Ph value (alkalinity) of more than 8.50, which has degraded the soil.

Pollution in rivers is also disseminated due to discharge of toxic chemicals by factories. Recently the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Sindh, was informed that the Indus river is highly polluted. The levels of various parameters are high enough to classify the river as polluted. Even the coliform level, which should have not been present in water bodies at all, averaged 800 per 100 ml. It is a fact that the Indus river is polluted due to indiscriminate discharges of untreated municipal and industrial wastewater, the Manchar Lake discharges make the pollution further distinct during periods of low flows (December-January). Most cities and towns of Sindh discharge their untreated municipal wastewater into the Indus. With wherever treatment facility exists (e.g., at Tando Muhammad Khan), the wastewater does not receive the desired degree of treatment. The parameter of major concerns is the discharge of organic matter. This causes depletion of dissolved oxygen in river water. Polluted Indus threatens the livelihoods of people, affects the agricultural produce and, makes water treatment for drinking purposes increasingly difficult.

Sea is also no exception in terms of pollution spread. According to sources, about 300 million gallons daily (MGD) of untreated industrial and municipal waste is thrown into the Arabian Sea. In addition a number of valuable fish species, once available in abundance, have now reduced due to destruction of mangrove forests and pollution in fishing waters. Water pollution can be damaging to the economy as it can be expensive to treat and prevent contamination. Waste that does not break down quickly accumulates in the Earth's waters and eventually makes its way to the oceans. Water pollution can be prevented by stopping pollutants from contaminating nearby waters. There are a number of water treatments to prevent pollution such as Biological filters , Chemical additives and Sand filters .


The soil of the cultivable areas is rapidly getting deficient in basic micro nutrients nitrogen, potash and phosphorous by 90%, 30% and 85%, respectively. As a result, the growth of plants is slow. Like many others, the Forest Department is also not playing is role in checking the pollution. The department has planted on average 77 trees per kilometre along roads, 30 trees per kilometre along canals and 31 trees per kilometre along railway tracks. This number is much less than the recommended number of at least 500 trees per kilometre.


Solid wastes are unwanted solid materials such as garbage, paper, plastics and other synthetic materials, metals, and wood. Billions of tons of solid waste are thrown out annually. Low-lying land is generally used for solid waste disposal in Pakistan, without the benefit of sanitary landfill methods. To add to the pollution, industrial units and hospitals have no waste treatment plants and incinerators, 90% of the 10,000 cottage industry units are working without chimneys and polythene bags having a thickness less than the minimum allowed are being used in routine. The burning of municipal solid waste is another significant source of pollution in the urban areas. Almost 48,000 tons of solid waste is generated each day, most of which is either dumped in low-lying areas or burnt. The burning of solid waste at low temperatures not only generates particulate matter but also produces other carcinogenic pollutants,


Hazardous wastes are solid, liquid, or gas wastes that may be deadly or harmful to people or the environment and tend to be persistent or non degradable in nature. Such wastes include toxic chemicals and flammable or radioactive substances, including industrial wastes from chemical plants or nuclear reactors, agricultural wastes such as pesticides and fertilizers, medical wastes, and household hazardous wastes such as toxic paints and solvents. Globally about 400 million metric tons of hazardous wastes are generated each year. The National Conservation Strategy has raised concerns about industrial toxic wastes also being dumped in municipal disposal areas without any record of their location, quantity, or toxic composition.

In case of industries, like thermal power plants, the variable of major concern is temperature and mercury poisoning which results in death. At Jamshoro (Sindh) and Muzzafargarh (Punjab), where power plants are also located, presence of mercury in Indus river water has been reported. Sudden increase in surface water temperature by three degrees Celsius is harmful for marine organisms. Required level of oxygen is usually not available, as the increased water temperature decreases solubility of oxygen in water.


The hyper urbanization experienced by Pakistan since the 1960s has resulted in loose controls for heavy equipment operation in densely populated areas, as well as in crowded streets filled with buses, trucks, automobiles, and motorcycles, which often honk at each other. Fitness of vehicles is necessary to check the environmental pollution, but the motor vehicle examiners have no equipment to check the fitness of vehicles. As a result, 100 decibels noise has been recorded in small cities on busy roads, that is much higher than the maximum admissible limit of 85 decibels. According to the figures recently released by the Punjab Excise & Taxation Department, almost 900,000 new vehicles were registered between 2002-2007, including 15,784 'luxury cars', 4,626 pickup trucks and 252,940 ordinary cars.

Ineffective enforcement of laws is a major cause of failure to curb pollution. Environment Protection Agencies as well as civil society have to work on war footing for effective implementation of rules to prevent this multi headed monster and save our environment from further destruction.