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Menace of Environmental Degradation




  • The environmental problems and pollution hazards are on the rise all over the world. The most advanced nation, USA is said to be producing about a quarter of the global pollution while China and India are not far behind to become the new leading polluters of the globe.
    Canada’s International Institute for Sustainable Development hosted the launch of a report by the Asian Development …

     

    The environmental problems and pollution hazards are on the rise all over the world. The most advanced nation, USA is said to be producing about a quarter of the global pollution while China and India are not far behind to become the new leading polluters of the globe.
    Canada’s International Institute for Sustainable Development hosted the launch of a report by the Asian Development Bank that painted a devastating portrait of environmental decline in Asia. The report entitled Asian Environment Outlook 2001 (AEO) concludes that environmental degradation in the Asia and pacific region is pervasive, accelerating and unabated, putting at risk people?s health and livelihood and hampering the economic growth needed to reduce the level of poverty in the region. According to the report, by 2020, over half of the Asian population is likely to live in cities, with the urban population tripling to over a billion in 1990, a further strain on the already inadequate infrastructure for water supply, housing, and sanitation. The region has already lost up to 90 per cent of its original wildlife habitat to agriculture, infrastructure, and deforestation. One in three Asians lack access to safe drinking water within 200 meters of home. The region is expected to replace the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries as the world greenhouse gas producers by 2015. Air pollution is a major cause of respiratory ailments and premature death in several Asian cities.
    The Himalayas feed water to the entire Sub-continent from the mountainous north to the coastal areas of the south. The global warming is rapidly melting down the frozen mountains and glaciers creating devastating floods and destroying habitats and property worth hundreds of billion dollars per annum. The devastating recent floods and destructions in Bangladesh and north eastern India are the direct results of climatic change, deforestation and indiscriminate interference in the ecological system by man. Even a moderate rise in temperatures could cause serious changes to the environment in South Asia. The mighty Himalayas stand as sponge, moderating the impact of precipitation as seasons change. That is how the major rivers in the subcontinent remain perennial throughout the year. But as a result of rapidly melting snow and glaciers that effect will not be there. This means we will get torrents during the wet season and dry rivers in the dry season creating severe water shortages for agriculture and household sectors.

    Melting glaciers in the Himalayas are already causing sea levels to rise in the coastal areas of the South Asia especially in Bangladesh. The scientists say Bangladesh may lose up to 20 per cent of its land by 2030 as a result of flooding. Bangladesh is among the most vulnerable countries on the planet to climate change and that is a tragedy for its 150 million people, most of whom are poor. In Bangladesh global warming means disappearance of low laying villages and islands and piling up of displaced people in cities. The Himalayas feed water to over one billion people in South Asian countries and this is a source that nature has provided but its protection is in man?s hand. Now, South Asian countries must prepare for the effects of global warming. Even a moderate rise in temperature could cause serious changes to the environment.
    Agriculture represents a fourth national income among the South Asian countries and the sector could be seriously disrupted by changes to the monsoon. Urban areas throughout the region are also at risk as water supply could be disrupted over the time. Infrastructure must be upgraded for sanitation and drinking water, as well as for adequate storm drainage in areas prone to flooding.
    The economic losses resulting from the environmental impacts are more than 4 per cent of GDP in Bangladesh. It is barely above sea level and sits atop a low-lying river delta, the world?s largest. It?s also nestled amid some of Asia?s largest rivers, including the Ganges and the Jammuna Brahmaputra. While melting glaciers have led to rising sea levels, so too have unusually heavy rains in recent years. Floods are damaging Bangladesh?s breadbasket regions in what may be the worst threat of all to a population that depends on small scale farming for food. Scientists in Dhaka, the capital, predict that as many as 20 million people in Bangladesh will become climate refugees by 2030, unable to survive on their flooded land.
    Like other developing economies Pakistan is also facing creeping environmental problems in its socio-economic sectors. Degradation of global and regional environment would only aggravate problems. Several environmental related challenges have now emerged in a more intense form than ever and unless they are addressed catastrophe may befall on us. The creeping environmental problems are: increasing water scarcity, deforestation, degradation of land resources, reduction of fertile land due to rapid population growth and urbanization, widespread pollution and contamination of surface and ground water due to indiscriminate disposal of industrial and human wastes and increasing emission of carbon by man and machine etc. Pakistan Economic Survey 2006-07 states that ?In Pakistan environmental degradation is intrinsically, inherently and essentially linked to poverty because of the over whelming dependence of the poor on natural resources for their livelihood ? whether agriculture, forestry, fisheries, hunting etc. Poverty combined with a burgeoning population and rapid urbanization, is leading to intense pressures on the environment.?
    Pakistan is among those countries, which have very high deforestation rate. The remaining forests are very diverse in nature and of significant importance for the country?s economy and livelihood of the people. It is a painful truth that Pakistan stands ravaged by unchecked deforestation. Whenever we talk about the climate change or the economic situation of the country, no one mentions the massive deforestation that has denuded vast mountains and terrains, which has a big role to play in the economy.
    Massive deforestation started in the 1990s in Pakistan. Between 1990 and 2000 Pakistan lost an average of 41,000 hectors of forest per year with an average annual deforestation rate of 1.63 per cent. Between 2000 and 2005 the rate increased to 2.02 per cent per annum. Generally, the removal or destruction of significant areas of forest cover has resulted in a degraded environment with reduced bio diversity. Short-term economic exploitation through deforestation is devastating to the long-term economy of developing countries not only by annihilating vital ecosystem, but also by destroying potential forest products. In Pakistan it is necessary to understand the economic consequences of the deforestation, otherwise to develop its economy; it will have to import wood from temperate regions like the former Soviet Union, Canada and USA.
    Since adopting the National Conservation Strategy (NCS) in 1992, the Government of Pakistan has made considerable progress in raising public awareness of environmental issues, and establishing a framework for environmental management. Implementation of the NCS was supported by the Worlds Bank through the Environment Protection and Resource Conservation Project. To further strengthen implementation of the NCS, the National Environmental Action Plan was approved by the Government in early 2001. A new and far-reaching National Environmental Policy was adopted in 2005, accompanied by a significant increase in the budget allocated for environmental management.
    The urgency of addressing Pakistan?s environmental problems has probably never been greater. Conservative estimates suggest that environmental degradation costs the country at least 6 per cent of GDP, or about Rs. 365 billion per year, and these costs fall disproportionately upon the poor. Estimate the cost of environmental degradation in
    (i) urban air pollution, including particulate matter and lead
    (ii) water supply, sanitation and hygiene
    (iii) air pollution
    (iv) agricultural damage from soil salinity and erosion
    (v) rangeland degradation
    (vi) deforestation. 
    Between 1994 and 2001, prices of electricity, natural gas, kerosene, and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) rose more rapidly than the consumer price index (CPI), potentially offering insights into how household might react to, and manage, sharply rising energy prices.
    Environmental and development policies must be integrated at national and regional level. Development by design should guide sustainable development. This means guiding urban and industrial development accepted and integrated environmental and economic development plans. A strong political will is essential to translate environmental concerns into actions. This means a minimum level of adequate budget and human resources, access to information and public participation as well as eliminating resource degradation. Effective environmental management requires active participation of key institutions within the government organizations, private sector, civil society and the media. Under the Kyoto protocol countries can meet treaty obligations by investing in project that reduces greenhouse gases elsewhere. Under the umbrella of SAARC countries in South Asia should make huge effort to redress the cause?s climate change in the region, particularly taming the root causes of devastating floods and deforestation.
    By: Muhammad Ahmad and Dr. M. Ishaque

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