Educate. Connect. Inspire

Educate. Connect. Inspire

May 10, 2012


Pakistan lies in Asia, strategically placed at the crossroads of Middle East, South and Central Asia. The country borders Iran, India, Afghanistan, China and the Arabian Sea. The capital city is Islamabad.

The landscape of Pakistan ranges from lofty mountains in the north, the Karakoram, the Hindukush and the Himalayas, through dissected plateaus to the rich alluvial plains of the Punjab, where the Indus River flows south to the Arabian Sea. Then it follows the desolate barrenness of Balochistan and the hot dry deserts of Sindh blending into miles and miles of golden beaches of Mekran coast. Amidst towering snow-clad peaks with heights varying from 1000 m to over 8000 meter, the valleys of Gilgit, Hunza and Skardu recall Shangri-La. The cultural patterns in this region are as interesting as its topography.

The people with typical costumes, folk dances, music and sports like polo and buzkashi provide the traveler an unforgettable experience. Modern Pakistanis are a blend of their Harappan, Indo-Aryan, Indo-Iranian, Saka, Parthian, Kushan, White Hun, Afghan, Arab, Turkic, and Mughal heritage. Waves of invaders and migrants settled down in Pakistan throughout the centuries, influencing the locals and being absorbed among them. Thus the region encompassed by modern-day Pakistan is home to the oldest Asian civilization (and one of the oldest in the world after Mesopotamia and Egypt), the Indus Valley Civilization.

Environmental challenges in Pakistan

A number of serious environmental problems are inherent in the country, which are of great ecological concern in terms of its sustainable economic future. The major constraint to overcoming these problems, in-fact perhaps the main contributor to their intensity is the population growth, which is very high in contrast to the natural limited resources that are available to the people. Around 140 million people live in this country, making it the seventh most populous country in the world. Also included in the constraints is the unsustainable use and management of these resources.
  • Considering Pakistan's environmental scenario, it becomes increasingly obvious that water issues are the most pressing. Human health, agriculture, rangelands, forests, water bodies, and aquatic life, in fact the whole ecosystem is affected by problems associated with water. Not only is there a scarcity of drinking water but pollution of water bodies by effluents from industries, agricultural runoff and the sewerage system have compounded the problem. A large part of the population does not have access to potable water.
  • Almost all chemical waste is dumped untreated into the river system from where it is taken out to sea. A large number of industries discharge deadly and toxic waste into storm-drains, open nullahs or in the Lyari and Malir rivers. Solid waste also finds its way into the water system. All of these toxic materials are responsible for the many waterborne diseases that plague the country and account for 60% of infant deaths.
  • Sewage water is re-channelled to irrigate crops, which contaminates them with pathogens. As a result 50% of the crops are contaminated. Groundwater may also be contaminated by untreated sewage. Indiscriminate use of pesticides and fertilisers ensure that agricultural run-off from fields also contributes to water pollution. Extensive use of agricultural chemicals has already started affecting aquifers. In Pakistan, pesticide residues have been found in water, soil and even food commodities. The situation is worse here because many of these are either sold under generic names or are fake and adulterated.
  • The coastal pollution is mainly confined to the Karachi Harbour, which encloses an area of 62 km2. A variety of effluents from domestic sources and waste from visiting ships contribute to the depressing state of the harbour. It is estimated that 90,000 tonnes of oil products from vessels and port terminals are dumped into the harbour every year. In addition, there is also the threat of oil pollution from other countries especially the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. A wide-diversity of garbage including wood and plastic are also found all over the harbour.
  • There are limited indigenous sources of energy, fossil fuel reserves are low and there is no great potential in the biomass energy. Energy use is excessively inefficient. This waste of energy is combined with the need to import fossil fuels and as a consequence there is a very low productive per capita use of energy.
  • The use of raw materials is also inefficient and many reusable resources are discarded as waste. Only 3% of the industrial plants meet international waste treatment standards. There are serious effluent problems and lack of sanitation affecting the natural resources and posing unmitigated health risks.
  • Although different figures suggest that the per capita use of timber is the lowest in the world, the declining rate of woody biomass is the second highest in the world. The main causes of deforestation are: use of fuel wood, logging for timber, unrestricted livestock grazing and clearing for agriculture.
  • The arid and semi-arid rangelands in Pakistan show signs of being strained by desertification. The threat of overgrazing, over-harvesting and overstocking of the natural vegetation is aggravating the situation. Deforestation, over cultivation, excessive cutting of fuelwood and incorrect irrigation practices all have a share in this problem.
  • Soil erosion is taking place at an alarming rate and is mainly due to deforestation in the north. Overall, 28% of soil is being lost to water. Wind erosion has a relatively lower impact than water erosion. However, the combination of the two is more devastating. This reduces the productivity of the land by 1.5-7.5% per year.
  • Water-logging and salinity usually occur together and are a result of intensive and continuous use of surface irrigation. Some experts consider them more important than soil erosion because they occur in the most productive areas of the Indus Basin.
  • The impacts of climate change are already being felt in Pakistan, as there has been an increase in the incidence, frequency, and intensity of extreme climatic events: more intense and heavier rainfall in coastal areas, more intense cyclones, more intense flooding in flood-prone areas along the Indus, and more pronounced droughts in the arid areas of Khuzdar. Other current impacts of climate change include increasingly erratic rainfall patterns, a shift in the cropping period, and hotter summers and warmer winters.

Citizens’ community involvement

The review of a number of databases and surveys indicates that there are around 10,000 to 12,000 active and registered NGOs in Pakistan, the bulk of them (59%) in Punjab province, followed by Sindh. If non-registered organisations are added to those registered (active) under the six laws, the number, according to reliable government sources, could be anywhere around 60,000.

In terms of thematic focus, education (including basic, primary, adult and informal) represents 56% of the total, while health and women’s development account for 39% each. Other areas of focus include early childhood development (15.2%), sports promotion and recreation (12.3%) and community development (12%). Intermediary NGOs and support organisations are also most actively engaged in education (69%); and women’s issues (56%).

Volunteerism has traditionally been a deep-rooted impulse, encouraged primarily by the religious obligation of helping the poor and the needy. During the colonial period, prominent philanthropists established educational and healthcare charities that were open to all regardless of caste, creed or colour. They left behind a legacy that was to guide and inspire many a future philanthropist and volunteer. Charity organisations that were set up in Pakistan after partition drew on the historical tradition of providing relief to the needy. While such charity organisations have rendered invaluable services to the poorest of the poor, they have remained dominated by their founding fathers. They are characterised by informal structures and a lack of internal democracy and accountability.

Development-oriented NGOs address the problems faced by the millions of citizens that had been bypassed by economic development. While the impact of citizens’ initiatives for development and poverty reduction might be debated, they have consistently addressed the needs of marginalised communities in the cities as well as the rural areas. Many of them have opposed the diversion of scarce state resources towards conventional and nuclear defence regimes at the expense of human development. The fact that such CSOs are still few in number and their impact is limited, could be some possible reasons for civil society informants being divided in their opinion about the role of CSOs in promoting sustainable development.

Government environmental policies

In Pakistan there are excise taxes in place for 17 categories of oil and fuel products. However, there are no other “green” taxes.

There have been no overarching policies focused on sustainable development and conservation. The state has focused on achieving self sufficiency in food production, meeting energy demands, and containing the high rate of population growth, not on curtailing pollution or other environmental hazards.

Environmental Policy and Regulatory Framework in Pakistan:
  • National Conservation Strategy: Conservation of natural resources, Sustainable development, Improved efficiency in the use and management of resources
  • National Environmental Action Plan – four core programs: Clean Air, Clean Water, Solid Waste Management, Ecosystems Management
  • National Environmental Policy: This policy covers all sectors and a wide range of means for promoting conservation and environmental protection in water, air and waste management, forestry, and transport. The policy aims to promote protection of the environment, the honoring of international obligations, sustainable management of resources, and economic growth.
  • Environmental Protection Act (PEPA): The most significant environmental legislation in Pakistan, it requires industrial facilities to restrict their air emissions and effluents to the limits specified in the National Environmental Quality Standards and establishes the penalties for noncompliance. It also outlines the institutional framework for environmental protection in Pakistan.
  • Forestry Sector Master Plan: Reforestation and promotion of forest plantations.
  • National Clean Air Act: Aims to control vehicular emissions, pollution from industry and indoor air pollution in rural areas.
  • National Climate Change Policy and Action Plan
  • National Energy Conservation Policy: The policy enumerates broad guidelines to enhance end-use efficiency in various energy consuming sectors of economy. Initiatives include formulating legislation, developing codes and standards, create public awareness, and capacity building.
  • National Environmental Quality Standards: This legislation regulates the air emissions and effluents of industry and other big polluters.
  • National Forest Policy: This policy covers the renewable natural resources of Pakistan i.e. Forests, Watersheds, Rangelands, Wildlife, Biodiversity and their habitats.
  • Renewable Energy Development Sector Investment Program: The program is the first of its kind in Pakistan. The program will expand the country’s power supply, especially in rural areas.
  • Renewable Energy Initiatives: The main objectives are to make polices, give incentives and develop tax structures to create an enabling environment for RE; engage in a broad awareness campaign for the use of RE and to attract the private sector; remote area electrification through RE; initiate R&D projects in wind, solar, biomass, biogas, micro hydro, fuel cell technologies and other RE fields.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

In terms of financial support, the role of the corporate sector merits attention. A National Survey on Corporate Giving revealed that the corporate sector is heavily involved in social development activities in Pakistan. 93% of the companies surveyed undertook some kind of philanthropic activity. By contrast, a majority of civil society knowledge bearers disagreed with the proposition that businesses were actively engaged in philanthropic programmes in Pakistan.

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