Over the last 100 years, the average temperature of the air near the Earth´s surface has risen a little less than 1° Celsius (0.74 ± 0.18°C, or 1.3 ± 0.32° Fahrenheit). It is responsible for the conspicuous increase in storms, floods and raging forest fires we have seen in the last ten years, according to scientists. Their data shows that an increase of one degree Celsius makes the Earth warmer now than it has been for at least a thousand years. Out of the 20 warmest years on record, 19 have occurred since 1980. The three hottest years ever observed have all occurred in the last eight years.
The climate is changing. The earth is warming up, and there is now overwhelming scientific consensus that it is happening, and human-induced. With global warming on the rise and species and their habitats on the fall, chances for ecosystems to adapt naturally are diminishing. Recent years show increasing temperatures in various regions of the world. The greenhouse effect and increasing extremities in weather patterns are because of the depleting ozone layer that protects the earth. Majority agree that climate change may be one of the greatest threats facing the planet and to heighten the awareness about this global issue, 2009 has been declared the ‘Environmental Year.’
Though Pakistan is responsible for only a small fraction of global warming- one thirty fifth of the world’s average of carbon dioxide emissions—the temperatures in the country’s coastal areas have risen since the early 1900s from 0.6 to 1 degree centigrade but it is among the countries that will be hit hardest by the effects of climate change, claims RK Pachauri, chairman of the Inter-Governmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC). Millions in Pakistan would be affected with diarrhoeal diseases associated with floods and drought becoming more prevalent. Intensifying rural poverty is likely to increase, internal migration as well as migration to other countries. Given the enormity of the impact, adaptation and mitigation measures are critically important. He also affirmed that environmental degradation would cost five percent of the Pakistan’s GDP every year.
Yet, Pakistan has to make preparatory steps to combat with the impact but this year has provided a chance for the environment department to work with vigilance on concerned issues. Poor natural resource management over many years and continuing high population growth has had a negative impact on Pakistan’s environment. Similar to other developing countries, Pakistan has focused on achieving self-sufficiency in food production, meeting energy demands, and containing its high rate of population growth rather than on curtailing pollution or other environmental hazards. As a result, “green” concerns have not been the government’s top priority. Yet, as Pakistan’s cities suffer from the effects of air pollution and unplanned development has caused degradation, environmental issues have become more salient. Safeguarding public health, as well as preserving Pakistan’s natural wonders, has made environmental protection increasingly important.
Valuemag met Naseem-ur- Rehman, Deputy Director of the Environment Protection Department (EPD) to discover details on the preparatory work to observe the official year of the environment. See Calendar of Activities.
“The population growth is disproportionate with the potential of the natural resources that has caused a disturbance in eco-system,” he declared. “As we grow more in number, there will be a more consumption of items that are prone to deteriorating environment, for instance the number of vehicles will increase on the roads, emitting dangerous gases in the air, or more plastic bags per person which clog pipes and make garbage disposal a nightmare. Likewise, the deforestation has been on increase rendered by rapid urbanisation and demand for wood. This has led to presence of extremely dangerous gases; like carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide in the air. Lahore’s population alone is 0.9 million with 0.09 million vehicles on the roads but the area constituting tree plantation is only 4.7 percent of the total area whereas based on ideal standards 25 percent of Punjab should be forested,” he added.
All kinds of pollution (air, noise and water) are basically the outcome of poverty, haphazard urbanization, industry lacking environmental safeguards and deforestation. According to the survey conducted by EPD on the air pollution as quoted by Naseem -ur- Rehman, “the particulate matter containing dust in the air is 450-500 mg/cm3 which is three times more than the WHO standard (150 mg/cm3) in the areas like Railway Station and Azadi Chowk where there is a heavy flow of traffic and where the roads are semi-constructed. But areas where two stroke rickshaws are not allowed and there is a controlled flow of traffic, the air is safer to breathe.”
The busiest places also contain a higher amount of sulphur dioxide which can be curtailed by planting more trees and plants along the sidewalks. The roads, which are left under-constructed, need to be completed to cut down dust element in the air, the concerned authorities have been warned already accordingly, he added.
Contaminated water is one of the most serious environmental hazards posing severe health risks for the general public. Naseem -ur- Rehman acclaimed that WASA has dug 17 tube wells to 500-600 feet for the sake of supplying safe and clean drinking water. But the water pipelines which were laid down years ago are now old and rusted which contaminate the water with zinc and other chemicals. Also the water storage tanks in homes are not regularly cleaned; consequently, the impurities also get dissolved in the water. The remedial short- term plan as Rehman suggested is Water Purification Plant which would facilitate the people by providing direct access to pure water, whereas replacement of pipelines is cumbersome and involves investment of millions of rupees.
Recycling units have been made to dispose off the waste safely. Already companies with the name of Green Earth and Waste Buster are putting up their efforts to be green by producing the items like furniture and plastic bags but the achievement of this year is the instalment of incinators for the hospitals waste. The proposal of generating electricity through solid waste is under consideration in Faisalabad, but it is a too costly a project and would take time to implement.
It was refreshing to know that EPD is reviewing the problems and its solutions; however, the pace of progress made should exceed the rate of environment pollution. According to the draft of plan, most of the activities to mark this year are based on creating awareness as seminars would be conducted in 35 different districts. Agreed, awareness is an important step to overcome the issues as people should know about recycling, conservation and organic way of life. But there is dire need to take action against those who use contaminated water for irrigation, or let untreated industrial waste and smoke emissions from industries escape into the surrounding environment which degrades your soils, water and air, and institutions and organizations that allow improper disposal of wastage to save short-term costs. Action must be taken now, the cost of human lives is simply too high in the long run for a short-term gain; don’t forget a stitch in time save nine.
This article was originally published in the print edition of Valuemag, issue 13, August 2009.