Conservationist Dr Ejaz Ahmed of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Pakistan will compile a preliminary report on the sources of pollution in the River Ravi for presentation to the Lahore High Court’s green bench in two months.
Dr Ahmed was tasked with the job at a two-day meeting of the River Ravi Commission, set up by the LHC to come up with a strategy to clean up the river, over the weekend. The members of the commission spent Saturday inspecting the effluent discharge points and pumping stations along the river. They heard experts from the private sector and then convened for a strategy session on Sunday.
Dr Kausar Abdullah Malik, dean of biotechnology at FC College and the chairman of the commission, asked the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) and the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) to prepare administrative and financial proposals for their departments to be able to implement the commission’s strategy to restore the river to its natural ecological state.
“WASA would be the implementing agent. They have to supply the water, set up a system of collecting the dirty water and treat it prior to disposal into natural water bodies,” said Vaqar Zakaria, director of the Himalayan Wildlife Foundation. “We are talking about a modern WASA, one which looks different to the current WASA,” he said.
WASA officials said that they did not have the resources to tackle the problem. EPD officials said that they lacked trained staff. They said that environmental laws “lacked teeth” and did not allow the regulatory action needed for cleaning up fresh water bodies.
Zakaria said finding funding would be the most important element of the strategy to clean up the river. “We need to start fining people who pollute,” he said. “To expect the state to clean up the river, while people go on polluting, is not acceptable.” He added that the EPD had a regulatory role and “unless the EPD has teeth, it will be hard to move forward”.
Both WASA and EPD were asked to prepare reports detailing the finances and institutional changes needed for them to be able to play their roles.
Ahmad Rafay Alam, an environmental lawyer and the commission secretary, said that self-monitoring was currently the only mechanism for the evaluation of industrial sewage discharge. He said that currently only 20 of the 65,000 industrial units in the Punjab were evaluating their effluent discharge and reporting it to the EPD.
He cited a Pakistan Journal of Water Resources 2006 report saying that 48 per cent of the pollution in the Indus is contributed by the Ravi, the smallest of the rivers that merge into the Indus.
Dr Ahmed was tasked with preparing a preliminary study, based on information already available with government agencies and environmental groups, identifying the polluters, the pollutants and the discharge points in the river.
Zakaria said that the WWF would be asked to do another more detailed study, taking up to a year, to look at the impact of the pollutants on the river’s ecology.
It was also suggested at the meeting that there be a River Ravi Day to raise public awareness of the importance of keeping the river clean and the negative consequences of sewage and industrial effluents on the ecological life of the Ravi.
Case studies of how other countries in South Asia have tackled environmental cleanups were also discussed. Saima Khawaja, an environment lawyer, gave a presentation earlier on Sunday about the Indian government’s attempt to seek public help in financing the cleaning of the Ganges and Kanpur rivers. Architect Kamil Khan Mumtaz brought up a programme in Bhutan to conserve the country’s forests. Civil engineer Asim Mehmood and industrialist Nihal Asghar informed the commission about the types of technologies available within Pakistan to treat dirty water.
The commission was set up on April 12 by the Lahore High Court in response to a petition filed by the Public Interest Law Association of Pakistan and the Lahore Conservation Society seeking action to clean up the River Ravi. It will meet again in two to three weeks.
Published in The Express Tribune, 25th, 2012.
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