Human beings like other organisms, have always polluted their environment with the byproducts of their action. As an organism man creates waste. As a social creature, he removes things from his environment and adds residue to it. So long as population density has been low on the planet, the environment was able to accommodate these alterations. Now with the world population about 8.5 billion people and increasing by 220,000 each day, the concentration of population in cities and resulting deterioration of environment is sounding alarms. The situation is urban Pakistan is worst.
The process of economic development over last 58 years has brought number of changes. One of the most critical dimensions of the process is urbanization of rural society. As the development has taken place primarily from agricultural to industrial economy, large scale rural to urban migration has taken place, changing the face of our cities as well as villages. The concentration of more and more people into urban areas is regarded as one of the major environmental threat today. The process is expected to escalate in Pakistan though many of our cities have already reached the point where further population concentration (by natural birth or migration) may jeopardize the delivery of basic civic services to all.
Urbanization process has effected all parts of country: villages, towns and cities in one-way or the other. The intensity of impact is most critical in the larger cities. Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Multan, Rawalpindi, Hyderabad, Sargodha and Peshawar are suffering from environmental degradation and quantifiable deficiencies in basic civic services. The civic bodies are badly failing to manage these problems.
Solid waste management has become one of the serious urban nightmares in Pakistan. The municipalities equipped with centuries old and outdated methods inefficiently lift only 60 percent of the municipal waste generated in our cities. In the absence of professionalism and proper waste disposal systems, most of the garbage lifted from the cities is crudely dumped in open spaces nearby. These dumps attract mosquitoes, rats, cockroaches, houseflies, ticks flees as well as stray dogs and birds like vultures and crows. Carried by the vectors, bacterium thriving in rotten and moist garbage is spreading all sorts of diseases. Other 40 percent waste is simply not picked up and keeps rotting in streets or illegal filth depots inside the cities. As the society prospers, its trash — mainly hazardous plastic, metals packaging and pathogenic non-biodegradable rubbish — is growing exponentially.
Karachi the mega city with population estimated over 11 millions, alone is generating 6000 tons of waster per day. Solid waste management department of Karachi Metropolitan Corporation is trying to keep the city clean with fleet of vehicles and an army of sweepers in its roll. Result: “The effects of environmental degradation due to the waste left inside Karachi are slowly poisoning the city”, notes an epidemiologist.
Sewerage systems only in portions of the cities are crumbling. Apart from being old they were basically designed for lesser population without catering for the future growth. Remaining population depends for waste disposal on septic tanks, soak pits or over flows into open drain. As a result of improper disposal of human waste (in many areas there is no disposal) from the housing environment a large number of children are suffering from or are vulnerable to the attacks of different diseases. The effluents from industrial units and tanneries working unchecked in the residential areas — with high concentration of pollutants are adding to the problems. Kasur, Multan and Sialkot are typical examples of the case in point.
One major problems of urbanization in Pakistan is the eating up of green and open spaces — so important for ecological balance — by concrete structures of ever expanding cities. Only 25 years back Lahore and Faislabad had several patches of agricultural land. Today, there is no arable land with in the limits of these cities. In Peshawar 2700 hectares of agricultural land were lost between 1965 and 1985. Multan had many mango orchards (Ram jis Bagh, Abidanwalla Bagh, Qasim Bagh, Langhe Khan Bagh, Hazori Bagh, Dewanwalla Bagh and Mirza Jan Bagh) inside the city. They all have been converted into plazas and industrial units. There is no open space in cities as small as Mandi Baha Ud Din that was declared district headquarters only in 1993.
The fresh water supply in our cities is dwindling as the cities are expanding. Access to the clean water is available to about 77 percent of the urban population. Only 30 percent have the luxury of piped water supply and the rest are being served by stand posts or public taps. Per capita water consumption in urban areas in bare minimum to sustain human life. Even the (finite) subsoil water reserves are decreasing due to high pumping rate. In most of the cities water pipe lines run next to the sewer lines there for, contaminating the drinking water.
Air governs the quality of our environment. The air in our cities is so polluted that it can be smelled and seen everywhere. When the wind is still, the fumes of vehicles, industrial concerns, smoke from garbage piles put of fire as well as airborne particles to dirt and pollen can be seen hung about any city. Only in Lahore 800,000 vehicles are responsible (apart form the noise pollution) for contaminating the environment by emitting poisonous gasses. Breathing has become a health hazard in soot-choked cities like Gujranwala where tar coal drums, electric wires and old tyres are burnt inside the residential areas in order to separate the iron.
There is an acute shortage of houses in the cities and the real estate prices are skyrocketing. The demand for the land is growing and the supply is limited. Since the land is essential for urban growth, devising equitable and efficient land development policies is one of the major challenges facing planners and policy makers, who do not seem to be aware of the seriousness of the problem. The number of slum and katchi abadi dwellers is on the increase.
In the typical city street, the road is potholed by PTCL or WASA excavations, electric generators and transformers carry a dangerous web of cable overhead. Shops encroach onto the roadways. Vendors have covered the open drains and advertisements and ugly looking neon signs are covering every available surface.
Historic buildings disappear without regret and even the protected monuments are suffering from vandalism. The roads are full of illegal speed breakers, all different in sizes and shapes. The old trees are being cut without a second thought. There is no body to oversee the overall growth of cities and to coordinate the work of city development agencies.
It is ideal if the human beings are dispersed evenly around the countryside. But people have been coming to cities for better economic and educational opportunities and better quality of life. It is about time that policy makers should think hard and plant to check the current demographic trend. This can be done, though it has yet not started to begin in Pakistan.