- Window of opportunity
Nature rewarded man at the time of its creation with pure environment, particularly pure air and water, which remain among his most fundamental needs. In the modern era both needs have been included in most fundamental commodities for a healthy life. Unfortunately a major portion of the global population is suffering because of non-availability of clean environment, which has made the situation vulnerable.
Although man has been confronted with many challenges throughout history but today’s reality is that he has been made to face the vulnerability caused due to environmental degradation. This has emerged as the mother of all challenges worldwide, especially in under-developed and third world countries. Unfortunately, Pakistan is prominent in that list. Once the country was known for its healthy environment, whereas now the situation has changed completely.
A number of reports over deaths and diseases pertaining to air pollution have surfaced time and again over the last few years. The World Bank, in one of its report, put Pakistan among countries with worst air quality that is damaging health, quality of life and economy of the country and that has led to several high profile causes of mortality and morbidity. US-based Health Effects Institute (HEI) in cooperation with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in its report “Global State of Air 2017” indicated that at least 4.2 million premature deaths were caused due to pollution with 135,000 only in Pakistan. WHO in its findings on same issue attributed around 6.5 million deaths to air pollution.
According to research undertaken by Pure Earth, toxic pollution affects more than 200 million people worldwide now while babies are born with defects and children are losing their IQ level. Hence, the overall efficiency of the nation is being affected which leading to many social and economic problems.
Sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matters, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and chemical vapors are the common types of air pollutants which can take part in further chemical reactions once they are in the atmosphere, creating acid rain and smog.
The recent demonstration of toxic smog in Lahore and other parts of country is only because of the failure of EPA
Keeping in view future challenges regarding environmental and to cope with them in Pakistan, the environment ministry was formed in 1975 following the Stockholm Declaration of 1972. The National Conservation Strategy was formed in 1992 for sustainable development while determining the environmental improvement agenda in the country. However, in 1993 Pakistan could manage to form National Environmental Quality Standards while in 1997 the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act was enacted to monitor the environment and further powers were delegated to provincial environmental protection agencies. EPAs were given mandate to protect the environment, to control its degradation by enforcing laws.
Punjab, which is the largest province with over 55 percent of population, has more challenges on account of environmental degradation. Since actively reporting on environment and deeply looking into the working of the Punjab Environmental Protection Agency for many past years, this has been observed that authorities have been reluctant in performing their duties. Being watch dog for the sake of rights of the people has obligatory responsibility under section-6 of Environmental Law to prepare the Ambient Air Quality Index and to make it public. But EPA could not prepare the true picture in this regard so it kept the masses and authorities in the dark. Earlier Pak-EPA in 1993 put some efforts to monitor air quality, with the equipment given by France while in Punjab the JICA provided established an up to mark set-up to monitor the environment. After the 18th amendment, Punjab EPA was given extra authorities by making it independent to exercise its duties. Unfortunately, despite knowing the facts, Punjab EPA remained reluctant to control rising environmental degradation.
Although the process of environmental degradation and adding into air pollution continued for many decades, it accelerated during the last two decades. And during this time EPA let the polluters violate environmental rules. Deforestation in province continued under the nose of its officials while it gave approval to all of the government’s projects ignoring its disadvantages. Water bodies have been contaminating, posing threat to human and aqua life and no strategy was made to stop the trend.
The recent demonstration of toxic smog in Lahore and other parts of country is only because of the failure of EPA. It was November 2016 when smog appeared in Lahore to create havoc among dwellers. Despite taking action to overcome the situation, the agency was unable to take any concrete measures, except issuing advisory to related departments. And, that was the reason that smog again appeared in 2017, more effectively exposing the authorities.
On account of environmental degradation, experts have warned that Pakistan’s economy may suffer to the tune of Rs365 billion every year, of which indoor pollution will account for Rs67 billion and urban air pollution Rs65 billion.
Controlling air pollution is not a big deal for any country as there are numerous examples of countries overcoming this problem through sincere effort. These countries are now among the world’s green countries. No doubt this would be a very hard task to deal with the violators in presence of old EPA officials for which there will be a dire need to revamp the Punjab EPA along with Pak-EPA.