Investing in Earth

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PAKISTAN has often been described as a country gifted with diverse flora and fauna and rich alluvial plains. From magnificent peaks to roaring rivers to scenic beaches, it has indeed been blessed with abundant natural beauty. Sadly, what is also true is that those tasked with steering development in the country have damaged Pakistan’s natural ecosystems, instead of protecting them, and, in the process, have jeopardised wildlife habitats and the well-being of the people. By some estimates, Pakistan is the fourth most polluted country in the world, with the second-worst quality of air. The latter is especially disturbing: going by WHO guidelines, the average lifespan of Pakistan’s citizens is being shortened by at least four years as air pollutants and irritants are being inhaled. The pollution crisis highlights the ineffectiveness of the existing environmental regulatory mechanisms and also the state’s failure to implement the rules. It is appalling that in a city like Karachi, where there are about a dozen industrial zones of various sizes, only 170 units have their own waste treatment facilities. Such lack of foresight and the failure to understand the importance of sustainable development have raised questions about the ability of our policymakers to adapt short- and long-term economic growth goals to an eco-friendly vision so that the environment is given room to breathe. Already Pakistan is among the world’s top 10 countries most affected by climate change — admittedly, due more to the practices of bigger polluters than its own. But this is all the more reason for it to adopt climate-friendly practices at home and try and lessen the impact of global emissions.

The matter is an urgent one, and must be addressed on a sustained basis. For starters, there is a need to intelligently modernise the decades-old brick-and-mortal development model so that it does not replace our natural surroundings and delicate ecosystems. Instead, small- and large-scale development projects should be carried out within a larger, sustainable framework across a range of sectors including water, health, energy and disaster-risk reduction. In other words, industrial and economic development should go hand in hand with the conservation of the natural environment. This is also in line with this year’s theme — to invest in our planet — for Earth Day that is being observed today. Constant upgradation of environmental regulation mechanisms and bodies is also required. Pakistan cannot thrive economically or socially until it stops denigrating its natural ecology that sustains life as we know it.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2022