Environmental care – 29 Apr 2023
Part – II
By Sohail Azmie
Pakistan’s forest cover is steadily declining with no action by authorities. Regeneration of forests and replantation initiatives have been ineffective and disjointed due to abysmal focus by the government.
The sole notable achievement made by Pakistan in this regard is mangrove restoration. In 2015, Pakistan was able to replant mangroves over an area of 95,000 hectares. Regional Director and Representative of the United Nations Environment Program Young-Woo Park believes that “these are alarming rates considering the low level of forest coverage in the country together with high ecological value of forests in maintaining the life support system.”
Since no serious attempt has been made to preserve forests or replant trees in the country, the government is likely to face some challenges. In the future, the rising demand of timber (which is currently about five million cubic metres per year now) will not let the government pragmatically plan for recovery of lost forests. The sharp imbalance between the demand and supply of timber and the growing need for more agricultural land logically implies that the rate of forest depletion will increase, thus exacerbating the effects of climate change and extinction of many species of birds and animals.
The International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an international organization working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, has declared 33 mammals as ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. This is one consequence of decreasing forests and increasing pollution.
Also, there are two species of fish and 22 various types of marine animals, which are at serious risk of being extinct in Pakistan’s rivers and seas. The impact of the disappearance of these species will critically disturb the ecosystem, subsequently resulting in an environment unfriendly for human existence.
Kemari Jetty in Karachi presents a true picture of our society, which perhaps does not need any more elaboration – a society that is unable to figure out what is best for it and what could be harmful will always wrestle hard to survive. Millions of cubic metres of untreated water is dumped daily into the Arabian Sea from Karachi. We think we are not financially efficient enough to afford treatment plants to filter water before it goes into the river or sea; some may say we have problems far greater than pollution and climate change.
These arguments will soon become regrets when we are struggling for food and water. Imagine a scenario – though it might not happen in our lifetime – where our seas become so polluted to keep any fish alive, the subsoil water is dried up, and rain patterns are altered so as to become harmful for humans. What shape and form the survival might take then is difficult to tell.
Kemari Jetty, which actually compelled me to write this article, does not only present a story of neglect, but it also highlights deep-rooted troubles in the country. All these issues can be traced back to rampant corruption, illiteracy and poverty. In an environment of poor transparency, there is hardly any planning that could help avoid deforestation and plan for effective environment conservation and poverty alleviation.
When the timber mafia is permitted to cut down trees at will; when land-grabbers are allowed to clear the trees off mountains and build housing societies; when industrialists pay bribes to get out of the requirement to treat its waste before dumping it into the sea; when the municipal administration fails to provide basic facilities to its people to avoid spread of pollution and trash, then a malnourished and a homeless garbage collector on the shores of the Arabian Sea would care nothing about the environment and the consequences of his action as he only fights to live another day.
Society and state are responsible for owning the cost of such irresponsible action. But the authorities concerned – in our case, unfortunately – considerably suffer from lack of vision and are guilty of inaction. Individually, people who care about the environment and the future of our children have a ‘moral’ obligation to spread the message to places like Kemari Jetty, which says: we have set a course for environmental destruction, we need to act now, lest it becomes irretrievable.
The question is what we can do now. First, we have to follow what I call the ‘individual social responsibility’ – or the ISR – principle. Each one of us is responsible for raising awareness among our family members, friends and colleagues. The ISR may not be a documented social covenant but binding on everyone to become part of the collective good.
Teaching our children about the consequences and dangers of pollution must be our first task, and we should lead by example. We can take them to the neighbourhood for picking up trash and disposing it off at the designated places or dustbins on a weekly basis. Those living in Karachi can visit the sea and let the children contribute to environmental conservation by cleaning waste or clearing pollutants, which are found near shores.
Students from environmental studies departments of various universities can be engaged by the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) for initiatives like ‘Healthy Seas’, ‘Clean Shores’ or ‘Saving Oceans’ etc, especially focusing on Karachi Harbour.
The corporate world is also supposed to give back to society in the name of ‘corporate social responsibility’ or the CSR; private companies can make a huge difference through CSR. Major industries located in Karachi, especially chemical processing companies, have significantly contributed towards devastation of Karachi’s marine environment and now they must act to, at least, stop the trend, if not reversed.
The Pakistan Navy has been actively contributing towards environmental protection, however it alone cannot negotiate with the Herculean task of getting rid of pollution that has spread wide and far in Karachi Harbour.
A joint PN-KPT-PMSA ‘marine environment protection’ initiative needs to be launched on an emergency basis, which may be led by one of the stakeholders. The initiative can propose measures and procedures for reducing pollution; ways and means to treat the sewage water being dumped into our seas from Karachi and penalties for people using the seas, benefiting from its riches but caring less for its sustenance. If it is not done now, we may not have the future worth spending on the seashores of Karachi.
The writer is a freelance contributor.