International consultants being hired for 7th Ravi basin pollution assessment


LAHORE: Punjab government is undertaking yet another assessment of the pollution spotting of Ravi basin to develop a long-term, multi-sectoral plan by hiring international consultants, planning and development board sources revealed.

The assessment, which will be the seventh of its kind, would be carried out at a cost of Rs48.625million comprising characteristical aspects of pollution of the river Ravi and the health risks that were not well documented by the earlier efforts owing to technical and institutional constraints.

Sources told that the study would prove to be beneficial for the environment and for the reshaping of the Ravi basin.

Punjab Planning and Development Board has been finalising a steering committee comprising 8 government departments and the WWF-Pakistan. The environment protection department (EPD), through its Strategic Planning and Implementation Unit, will be the executing agency and will provide a day-to-day support to the activities and coordination to the steering committee and its technical working group.

The steering committee will comprise senior staff members from the EPD, irrigation department, agriculture department, the local government, the community development department, primary and secondary healthcare departments, housing department, the urban development department, the public health engineering department, industries and commerce departments, the investment department and WWF-Pakistan.

According to a 2009 report by the Punjab EPD, the river Ravi is biologically dead (lacking dissolved oxygen). The report stated that the major pollution sources that caused the deficiency of oxygen were household wastewater, industrial effluent, agricultural runoff, and solid waste. A 2014 report by the World Wide Fund for Nature Pakistan (WWF-Pakistan) assessed the situation of the river, and while mapping major urban drains and industrial discharges concluded that the Ravi is Punjab’s most polluted river.

Experts agree that pollution has been creating major health, environmental, food, and water safety risks that consequently hurt the province’s economy.

Pollution in the Ravi has been a known problem since 1995 though past clean-up efforts rarely moved beyond the concept stage, sources told. Two national water sector strategies from 2002 and 2012 highlighted the need to clean up the river and included investment proposals, but these have not ever been materialised.

A government-endorsed wastewater treatment feasibility study prepared with financial support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency in 2009 recommended a $413 million investment, while a similar study by a French consultant in 2011 recommended a $118 million investment, but neither of the projects went ahead.

In 2012, the Lahore High Court ordered the establishment of the River Ravi Commission to help clean up the river. The commission reviewed the situation and prepared a report recommending the construction of a low-cost bioremediation plant in Lahore as the first step. However, soon after the recommendation, the Lahore Development Authority proposed a $3 billion waterfront urban development project for the river that could prevent further environmental risks. The organisations have been arguing in court ever since and the progress has stalled.

Sources have said that the proposed assessment intends to contribute to addressing the pollution crisis by improving monitoring and enforcement capacity, filling regulatory and institutional gaps, raising awareness on pollution risks, cost-efficient ways to reduce pollution, and by increasing the levels of investment.