It has taken the unfortunate deaths of three young children for Karachi’s administration to realize that the city has factories which are polluting the living environment to such an extent that people are dying because of the contamination. Two four-year-olds and one six-year-old child died when they happened to chance upon a powder which they tasted while playing in a playground in a low-income area. Apparently, the playground, situated in a heavily populated area, has long been known to be a dumping ground for all kinds of chemicals from nearby factories, but the authorities did nothing to stop this harmful practice.
In most countries, dumping toxic industrial waste in congested residential areas would invite both preventive and punitive action, but not so in Pakistan. The problem isn’t that there are no laws; the problem is that existing legislation – most notably the Pakistan Environment Protection Act of 1997 – is not enforced.
What is also disturbing is that the federal and provincial governments seem to have learnt nothing from past tragedies like this. Cases of discharging of toxic waste into streams and rivers or simply dumping them at disposal sites meant for household waste are quite common in most urban centres. Then, there was the shocking revelation, last year, in a village outside Lahore where hundreds of children had suffered bone deformities after fluoride released from a nearby factory contaminated the local water supply. An inquiry into the incident later absolved the factory of any responsibility and the matterwas soon forgotten.
Agreed, Pakistan is a developing country where the quantum of resources devoted to environment protection is limited by other competing priorities. However, certain things can surely be done. A comprehensive survey – at least in all major cities – of factories should be conducted, so that a database can be compiled, making it easier to pinpoint polluters and keep their waste disposal methods and practices under watch.
For this, the federal and provincial environmental protection agencies should be given adequate financial and technical resources. Other than that, the environmental tribunals as mandated by the 1997 Act, but which exist only on paper, should be constituted so that those who pollute at least know that they could be proceeded against.