A report by the Sindh government’s environmental and alternative energy department, castigating hundreds of industrial companies for dumping hazardous waste in open plots in Karachi’s main industrial area is another example of how we neglect lethal matters. Companies understand interdependence in economic terms but fail to extend that to anything outside a financial realm and dump solid waste or allow the poison to seep into municipal rain drains, which flow into the sea. Negligent toxic dumping affects the survival of Indus blind dolphins and endangers scavengers who recycle materials found in toxic dump sites.
The biggest toll is the human cost: deaths due to burns and limbs amputated following injury. To make matters worse, the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency’s (Sepa) efforts to curb dumping have come to naught, partly because its officials have been allegedly on the take from factory owners. The Pakistan Environmental Protection Act of 1997 is a good piece of legislation and allows for penalties of up to Rs100,000 plus jail terms. Unfortunately it is not enforced, and hazardous waste is dumped in densely-populated areas and where children can gain easy access. What will it take for government agencies to take notice of the damage being done to the environment and to people’s lives by companies and act against them? A Hollywood film like Erin Brockovich highlighted the triumphant settlement of victims of improper waste water dumping — $333 million — in a direct action lawsuit in the US. But given the relatively low level of litigiousness and often delayed governmental injury-compensation here, perhaps the best way forward would be for the enforcing agency — Sepa in this case — to strictly implement the law and punish the polluters.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 19th, 2010.