Environment degradation costing country Rs 1 billion daily


Poor implementation of environmental laws and regulations cost the country Rs 1 billion daily as threats of further deterioration loom large amid a rising population, depleting resources and global warming. The country is vulnerable to frequent natural disasters in the form of droughts, floods and earthquakes which cost the country additional losses amounting to billions. Fifty percent of the total solid waste generated (almost 25,000 ton) remains uncollected. When disposed improperly, these wastes choke sewage lines and decays in open air contributing to respiratory and skin diseases. According to studies, millions of Pakistanis do not have access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities while deforestation is rampant. The air quality monitoring system installed across the country half a decade ago has been closed down and clean drinking water project for all has died its own death.
Unruly growth of urban settlements and ill planned development projects play havoc with natural ecosystems as projects are executed without conducting proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and this trend continues to deteriorate the environment resulting in loss of resources and biodiversity. All these impacts, the World Bank has reckoned, are costing national kitty Rs 365 billion annually. This is six percent of the GDP and such a huge loss to an already crisis stricken economy can be lethal, if things are not improved and EIA mechanism is not strengthened. “EIA is a key to progress. Its implementation ensures sustainable development and minimizes pressure on national kitty,” Director General Pak-EPA Asif Shuja Khan said. He stressed upon adopting EIA and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) tools on a permanent basis as he believed that skipping some projects or conducting EIA of selective projects hamper’s the efforts to protect environment and curtail economic losses. “We in the capital try to ensure EIA for every project. However, more work is needed to be done at the provincial level, he remarked.
As both the government and international experts believe that all development projects must be environment friendly, therefore, a countrywide National Impact Assessment Program has been initiated. Planning Commission and Ministry of Climate Change are executing this program through IUCN and Environmental Protection Agencies. Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment is providing technical support, whereas, the program is being funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. National Program Manager Mr. Ahmad Saeed said NIAP is aimed at sustainable economic growth and based on two important tools; Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA).Both the tools aim to integrate environmental considerations into decision making, he said and explained, EIA is applied at individual projects and SEA comes into play during the development of plans and policies. SEA also refers to a range of analytical and participatory approaches aimed to integrate environmental considerations into policy plans and programs and evaluates the inter linkages with economic and social considerations, he added.
In Pakistan EIA was made statutory in 1983 and Pakistan Environmental Protection Act of 1997 and its EIA regulations issued in 2000 specify processes and procedures for conducting EIA. But, its proper implementation has remained an unfulfilled dream. SEA is a new concept for Pakistan and is not supported by legislation. Even most of media persons and those responsible for raising awareness are least conversant with this important tool and seldom write about or highlight it.
Experts believe that introduction of SEA in development planning in Pakistan will make the planning process more inclusive, minimize contradictions between policies, plans and programs, strengthen inter-sector cooperation and coordination, decrease the pressure on project-level EIA and ensure that planning is economically viable, environmentally sustainable and cost-effective in the long run.
In view of deteriorating environmental conditions and rising losses, it is imperative to put in place a legal and technical mechanism for effective implementation of EIA and SEA.
Implementation institutions and requisite infrastructure are partially in place but their functioning needs to be streamlined and strengthened. Therefore, it is important to enhance capacity of institutions and promote political commitment as well as raising awareness among common people and the stakeholders.