KARACHI: As we go about rebuilding and strengthening our governmental institutions, working on infrastructural projects and focusing on driving economic growth, one question we all must address, ie How do we balance social, economic and environment objectives? The decision we make today will have long-term impact on our future generation as well as a lasting influence on sustainability of our economy.
Many may question my timing of focusing on sustainable development, when bigger and more critical issues such as poverty, illiteracy, lack of health facilities as well as poor energy access is playing havoc with our nation. However, it is commonsensical to be aware of ideas and opportunities on how to save our environment by finding creative yet low-cost solutions which will help complement our fight on the bigger issues.
So what is the price we pay for not protecting our environment?
Forests, which are disappearing at an incredible rate, helps in soil erosion, act as watershed and a source of fresh oxygen. Due to a deficient political will as well as lack of close monitoring, Pakistan has one of the highest deforestation rates in the region. It is estimated that between 1990 and 2010 we lost 33.2% of our forest cover. As a result of decades of deforestation, the 2010 floods were unprecedented and over 18 million people suffered. Encouragingly a National Forest Policy was enacted in 2010 but key will be if it is implemented properly.
Uncontrolled air pollution by industries and vehicles is a cause of serious health concern as toxic air-pollutant cause cancer, pulmonary diseases, asthma, respiratory or cardiovascular diseases. Water pollution and contaminated ground water caused by sewage and chemical wastes, which is drained untreated into rivers and lakes, can cause bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A and E, typhoid as well as dengue fever and malaria.
Rapid urbanisation and changing consumption patterns coupled with lack of solid waste management is leaving our urban cities in a mess. Large rural influx over the last few decades into urban centers has significantly overburdened the already strained urban waste management infrastructure resulting in poor sanitation and spreading of diseases.
As we work towards developing Pakistan economically, pushing industrialisation and modernisation, we must make sure that the growth does not come at a price of compromising the wellbeing of our future generations. Balancing the needs of the future depends on how well we complement social, economic, and environmental objectives, based on decision we make today.
Just like the enacting of the new the National Forest Policy in 2010, we need similar policies on air and water pollution, on waste management as well as on recycling garbage. Even more critical is to give these policies teeth so that people who do not comply are penalised. Having a policy just on paper will not help and our environment will continue to deteriorate, unless the government and its leaders take full ownership and champion eco-friendly policies.
One must remember that whatever we do today, how we treat our country and its resources, the real impact will be felt by our future generations.
The writer works in the corporate sector and is active on various business forums and trade bodies
Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2012.