One of the biggest problems world is facing today is of environmental degrading, worsening every day. Lahore School of Economics Senior Research Fellow Prof. Dr. Mohammad Rafiq Khan has researched the problem in national as well as international context and presented his finding in his book titled Maholyat Aur Ham.
In human context, the environmental problem is the product of the action and reaction between human and environment. The environment acts to create problems, and humans react to solve these problems. This forms the basis of evolution and progress in the universe.
At the primary level, we can place the family. The family members make use of a large number of goods to live. They use stuff to prepare their meals, stitch their clothes and use large quantity of water for drinking and washing. In addition, many other goods and materials are used for the maintenance of home. Use of different goods and materials creates environmental problems that pose large number of challenges. Food stuffs used to cook the meals will get accumulated in the shape of different type of wastes that demand their disposal. The water used for drinking and washing translates into the accumulation of wastewater. Similarly, use of other materials such as metallic articles, glassware, plastic ware, paper packages and reading may result into the piles of rejected metal pieces, broken glasses, waste-papers, plastic and metal containers.
Disposal of domestic wastes is a problem. If this challenge is not met effectively, a large number of secondary problems arise. The accumulation of solid waste in the house may occupy large amount of space, in the first instance.
The next level of the environmental problems is that of a community that may be of an immediate concern to a family — disposal of home waste and mobilization of wastewater for disposal to a safer place where it could be utilized purposefully. The challenges may include the prevention of the scattering of these wastes in the localities and the knowledge or development of methods appropriate for the disposal of these wastes in an organized manner.
Let us extend the analysis of environmental issues to the level of towns and cities. The environmental responsibilities of the towns and cities are similar in nature except they differ in their magnitude. They also differ in the facilities available to combat the environmental problems.
Local bodies’ environmental responsibilities include the cleanliness, maintenance of the hygiene to protect the public health, disposal of solid and liquid wastes, supply of clean water, drainage of rain water from the low lying areas and so on. The biggest problem of the towns and cities local bodies is of resources constraint.
Take the case of the city of Lahore; visit its ancient areas, where one can see the open drains full of dirty human and animal excreta. These are source of widespread nuisance due to obnoxious odors produced as a result of the fermentations in progress. Move to the low-lying areas of Misri Shah and Shadbagh on day of heavy rain. There is the likelihood that you may see the worst inundations. The nullahs that accumulate sewage openly pass through different areas of Lahore polluting the atmosphere around.
There is only one treatment plant for the city of Karachi in Pakistan and nowhere else. The condition is even worse in other big cities such as Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Sialkot, which are otherwise considered as prosperous cities. The small towns, apart from being environmentally in the worst condition, are in the most congested condition traffic wise.
It can be appreciated that the environment protection problems are relatively less in the developed countries. The major reasons for this encouraging situation are scientifically planned towns and cities, available resources and the high literacy rate. Appropriate town planning with an objective to provide the basic health and sanitation needs of the people are catered for. The solid pollutants are also efficiently lifted for disposal through recycling or by dumping underground in the places made available.
An additional advantage is the advanced science and technology that offers, in time, the cost effective solutions of the environmental problems. The most potent reason sounds to be the high literacy rate, which may be used as an index of the public consciousness for the aesthetic tastes for the cleanliness of the environment, understanding of the existence of the environmental problems, preventive measures against the environmental pollution, development of aptitudes to solve the problems at family or local community level.
The situation in the developing counties presents an opposite picture. The villages, towns and cities of most of the developing countries are unplanned. The major repercussion of this lack of planning is the wastage of resources. It is often observed in the big cities that after the roads are completed, the department, says of telephone, comes and starts digging them for the installation of the telephone cables. After it leave, another department, say that of natural gas, starts digging the roadsides or even the roads for the installation of gas pipes. The civil works may follow to install the sewage system. So much so, the department of water and power may also jump in for the conversion of the electric wires from open to underground for the safe supply of electricity.
The repeated digging is one of the major causes of solid pollution in the developing countries. Who is to be blamed for this lack of planning?
“Lack of resources, scarcity of capital, poverty, unemployment and hunger, malnutrition and squalor, diseases like aids and cancer are the common features of the developing countries,” observes Dr. Rafiq Khan. There are no appropriate technologies available in the developing countries to minimize or control the environmental problems. The situation is further aggravated by the very low literacy rates in the developing countries that translate into the lack of mass consciousness for the neat and clean environment, understanding about the existence of the environmental problems and knowledge of the control techniques to combat them.
Published by the Urdu Science Board, Maholyat Aur Ham is a good read not only for environmentalists and planners but also for individuals who value the quality of life.