Imagine a Pakistan without the River Indus, a Pakistan with almost double the population and almost no sources and reserves of clean water, a Pakistan with vast tracts of land with infertile soil, with a sea that died long ago and air that turned too deadly to breathe.
In the coming decades this nightmare vision of Pakistan will be a reality if we were to continue with our collective disregard for the conservation of the environment. Dr Qamaruzzaman Chaudhry, former director general of the Met Office and vice president of the World Meteorological Organisation, during a recent presentation given to members of the Parliamentary Task Force on Sustainable Development Goals, explained that “70 to 80 percent of our water comes from glaciers but in the next 30 to 40 years there may be no water in the Indus River because the glaciers will have all melted”. He aptly remarked that “climate change poses a greater security threat than terrorism”.
Rising temperatures are a global phenomenon and requires multidimensional efforts to conserve natural environment in order to avoid its devastating effects. A report released on January 16, 2015 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and confirmed by an independent analysis from Nasa revealed that 2014 was the hottest year recorded since 1880.
In Pakistan rising temperatures have already resulted in increasing floods and rains and early ripening of crops causing a subsequent fall in yield. On the one hand we are at veritable risk of losing our key sources of water and on the other we are massively polluting our freshwater bodies and seas. The number of vehicles in Pakistan has increased from around two million to 10.6 million over the last 20 years heavily contributing to air pollution besides industries belching hazardous fumes.
A World Bank report titled ‘Cleaning Pakistan’s air’ released last year revealed that Pakistan’s urban air pollution is among the most severe in the world and engenders significant damage to health and economy. Absence of modern mass transit systems in major cities like Karachi, lack of solid and liquid waste management and shrinking forest cover are constant factors in polluting our air, water and soil.
People in general have no regard for the conservation of environment. Use of polythene bags is one example. These polythene bags choke the drainage system and when burned generate hydrogen cyanide which may cause cancer. Polythene also damages water particles, and toxic chemicals present in it damage plants and hurt animals. But people still stubbornly stick to using these bags.
As a nation we need a catastrophe to motivate us into a ‘national consensus’ mode in order to do the needful. Our endangered environment is going to be the mother of all catastrophes. We need a national approach to conservation of environment. A national consensus would require an all-parties environment conference.
The PTI and PML-N have recently demonstrated rare and remarkable political maturity and national spirit by joining hands for the ‘Sehat ka Ittehad’ campaign by adopting KP’s ‘Sehat ka Insaf’ programme. The two parties can jointly convene an all-parties conference to be attended by political parties, NGOs and international environmental agencies like UNEP, WWF etc. In the conference they should brainstorm on ideas for a safer, better environment and prepare initiative proposals to be pursued on both the governmental and people’s level.
The PTI and PML-N could thus work on greater projects for environmental conservation in KP and Punjab. Nongovernmental initiatives are particularly needed in Sindh, which is overrun with corruption and incompetence, especially in the plundered city of Karachi.
Practically there could be many initiatives that the leaders and workers of political parties can work on with common citizens like rehabilitation and protection of parks, motivating people to use cotton bags instead of polythene bags for groceries, formation of community trash disposal systems, and tree plantation, especially indigenous trees. The PTI, PML-N, MQM, PML-Q, PML-F, JI and nationalist parties should all join hands to save the environment. Joint committees with representatives of political parties, NGOs and international bodies should be formed out of the proposed conference to oversee and ensure corruption free implementation of environment schemes.
The all-parties environment conference could lift politicians’ image and help alleviate the general public perception about political workers that many if not most of them are good only for flattering their leaders, land-grabbing, extortion and selling government jobs etc. The conference could also serve to spread awareness among the people for environmental conservation. Conference participants could invite all major media outlets to support them with mass awareness and implementation of the initiatives. We need our political parties to unite on environment conservation.c