Like most of other south Asian countries, traditionally, Pakistan’s economy has been centered on agriculture. However, in the recent past, manufacturing and services have also emerged as major contributing sectors.
The share of manufacturing sector, from 18.3 percent in 2007 to 30 percent by 2030, has been envisioned in Vision 2030. With the increasing industrial and agricultural activities, energy demands, urbanisation, traffic density and population growth, the degradation of all segments (air, water and land) of environment is alarmingly increasing and remains a grave concern.
The unsound management of chemicals, especially in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors, have further compounded the environmental issues.
Twenty percent of the registered industries in Pakistan are considered highly polluting. Under the Self-monitoring and Reporting (SMART) programme for the industry in Pakistan, in category A (most hazardous) there are 23 and 11 industrial sectors for industrial effluents and gaseous emission, respectively.
Major industries are in textiles, leather, steel, oil refineries and mills, chemicals, ceramics, pharmaceuticals and food. Most of these are located in Sialkot, Faisalabad, Multan, Hyderabad, Lahore, Peshawar and Rawalpindi cities. More than 10 industrial states are functional and a few new ones are developing.
Industrial waste water discharge from industries in the country has been estimated at 6.25 (in 2010) to a projected value of 12.25 million cubic meters/annum (in 2010). A combined pollution load (BOD, COD & TDS) in waste water discharged to inland water bodies has been estimated at 28.6 (in 2010) to a projected value of 58.6 million tons/annum.
Degradation of water quality, both for human consumption and irrigation, due to industrial wastewater discharge with high pollution load and its resulting impacts on public health and environment are most obvious.
In a recent SDPI survey of 38 polluted sites in the country, it was shocking to observe waste water from the industrial estates and industrial units being discharged into mostly agriculture fields for cash crops but also in a few for food crops and vegetables, both on large and small scales .
Water and soil are known and well established pathways for toxic chemicals (metals, non-metals and organics) getting into food chain and ultimately into human bodies, besides, to a lesser extent through air.
In a recent industrial site survey by SDPI monitoring team, 37 chemically polluted sites have been identified and assessed in Punjab (25 in 7 cities), Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (5 in/around 3 cities) and Sindh (7 in/around 2 cities). Two polluted sites were identified and assessed in and around Islamabad. There are nine priority polluted sites for which immediate remediation actions are required.
Industrial chemicals manufacturing and use, obsolete pesticides stocks and hospital wastes are potential sources of hazardous wastes in the country. Substantial quantum of hazardous industrial wastes is also released by old or expired ship-breaking yards and non-formal industrial sectors (SMEs), including very small scale recycling units run by un-skilled and illiterate labor, which are scattered across the country.
To the best of accessible information, district based inventory of these by district/provincial EPAs are yet to be developed.
Air pollutants can be transported across states and national boundaries, therefore, pollutants produced by one country, as well have adverse impacts on the environment of neighbouring countries.
Trans-boundary air pollution, which is also impacting some areas of Pakistan, as evident by increased fog in winter months, is an emerging environmental issue that demands critical attention. Downwind areas of the countries are likely to be affected more than the upwind areas.
The impacts of climate change on chemicals characteristics, hazardous wastes and sites and the resulting impacts on environment and public health have not been realised in Pakistan and other developing countries.
High temperature and low precipitation would enhance volatile chemicals levels in the air and the increased evaporation would enhance non-volatile chemicals levels in water bodies and soil. Low temperature and high precipitation or snowfall would transport back air pollutants to water bodies and land.
Enhanced air, water and land pollution due to climate change and in the event of high flood the spread of hazardous waste dumps into cities at the polluted sites could play havoc with the environment and health.
Over the years, environmental protection agencies (EPAs) and Ministry of Environment have done well in establishing institutions, developing and to the extent possible, implementing with the involvement and support of stakeholders, environment policies, action plans, strategies and legislation to regulate industrial pollution.
Phasing out lead from gasoline, reduction in sulfur content of diesel and furnace oil, conversion of vehicles to CNG on a massive scale for transport, substantial technical and financial support towards ISO certification by industries, setting up of revised national environmental quality standards (NEQS) and launching of self-monitoring and reporting program for industrial sector across the country, etc, have been great initiatives and arrangements.
Progress on these initiatives and arrangements has been slow but steady. There has been increase in ISO certified industrial units (from 59 (2005) to 200 (2008), IEE/EIA reports submitted to EPAs (from 37 (2000) to 437 (2008) and environmental investment by the industrial sector of Rs. 7,570 millions (1996) to estimated 25, 520 millions (2011 – 2025).
The self-monitoring and reporting programme developed and promoted a culture of monitoring and reporting by an industry to provincial EPAs, which were not in existence in the country. Several environment protection orders (EPOs) have been issued to non-compliance industrial units and cases referred to environmental tribunals.
The responsibility of slow progress referred to above needs to be looked at the performance of three main stakeholders to the environment issue, the government (MoE/EPAs), industrial sector (FPCCI, provincial and district CCI and industrial associations and representatives of civil society and their constraints in meeting the challenge of a clean environment.
There seems to be a lack of political will. Environment has not been among the priorities of the past or present governments. Hardly any political party manifesto prominently speaks of environmental issues.
All along the governments’ preference has been a voluntary approach and not a strict approach in regulating industrial pollution. Pakistan environmental protection council (PEPC) meets once a year to monitor and expedite the implementation of environmental policies.
Implementation of the approved environmental policies can take so long that the situation over time changes drastically and these may not remain feasible or need to go through another process of updates and revision, as evident by revised NEQSs, self-monitoring and reporting programme.
Lack of capacity building, expertise, technical know-how, and human resource are other major constraints not only for the government to enforce compliance but also for the industry.
In the early years of environment policy and legislation, industry through FPCCI not only supported government initiatives but also played an important role as an active member of National Standards Committee and NEQSs implementation committee. FPCCI not only agreed to payment of pollution charge but also proposed the amount of the base rate for non-compliance with NEQSs.
However, the government’s response to the FPCCI proposed financial incentives and lack of credit availability for environmental technology or investment has not been up to FPCCI expectations.
While the industrial sector seems willing to invest in pollution control measures, technology, its cost, and durability have not been readily accessible.
Establishment of “Provincial Sustainable Development Fund” to support industry with soft loan for the purchase of pollution control equipment and installation of industry specific treatment plants was agreed upon both by the government and the industry but it could not be institutionalized due to diversified opinion regarding its operating mechanism.
The civil society can also play a vital role towards industrial pollution control by building awareness for all stakeholders and sections of society, providing relevant information and help to vulnerable groups (women, children, elderly and sick) and by carrying out national and local campaigns to protecting environment exposure to toxic industrial releases.
Civil society needs to be involved both at the policy and implementation phases as is now obligatory to governments under Stockholm Convention on POPs, Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) and -negotiations UNEP draft text of the legally binding instrument on mercury phase out
The writer is Senior Adviser, Chemicals & sustainable Industrial Development with Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad. Pakistan
This article was originally published at: The News
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.