Recently, British High Commissioner to Pakistan Dr Christian Turner tweeted a picture of himself picking up two bags of trash while returning home after a morning walk from Margalla Hills in Islamabad. But what is so significant about this tweet? Well, for one, it highlights the dominant Pakistani mindset of leaving waste behind for others to clean (not just referring to physical waste). And secondly, its shows that foreigners living in Pakistan are much keener on cleaning the country than we are. We all embarrassingly witnessed Shaniera Akram’s lament about the state of the Seaview beach in Karachi.
But perhaps the most surprising aspect is that the respected commissioner seems to understand, embody and practise one of the most fundamental aspects of Islam: the tweet says, “Safaai nisf imaan hai [cleanliness is half of faith]”. Even though the tweet triggered a response whereby sanitation teams cleared 1,600 tons of waste from the area, the solution doesn’t lie in theatrical acts. The problem is more monumental than we care to believe. While the country generates about 48.5 million tons of solid waste a year, it is surprising that all major cities lack waste management infrastructure. The world is moving towards much more sustainable eco-friendly methods of waste collection and disposal, but we have yet to create a coherent and focused structure of waste management.
The nexus of mafias, politicians and government officials who make money, salvaging valuables out of trash has aggravated the problem to frightening levels. Overflowing gutters, rotting trash, and burning plastic are serious environmental and health hazards. It could lead to problems ranging from groundwater contamination to birth defects and cancer. Yet, many continue to underplay the reality by saying colonial leaders are now picking up trash from the very place they ruled. We have always skewed moral logic to our favour without looking at the actual moral behind it. In the case of Pakistan, the first step to solving the problem is realising that you are the problem.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2021.