Lessons for Pakistani mayors
March 27, 2019
Noise levels
March 27, 2019

McDonald  Ka  Pakistan

Pakistan  has  much to be proud of.   It is therefore strange that it places so much emphasis  on displaying  missiles and McDonald’s restaurants, as if these were  its only two major achievements.   Emerging from Karachi Airport. even  before one can  spot one’s friends or relatives, one is  greeted  by the   sight   of a monstrous junk food joint ,  plonked right in the middle of CAA’s most  prestigious real estate – the airport parking lot.  Likewise, the  finest opening spot on the Clifton Beach is occupied by  an environmental sore thumb,  a McDonald’s restaurant, merrily multiplying the  vehicular traffic, noise and  emissions  at the beach.  Landing at Islamabad on the other hand, one would find  the militant replicas  of ‘Ghouris’  and ‘Chagais’ , that stand out  in sharp contrast to what would other wise be a quiet and peaceful city.  Recently it  dawned upon the city’s care taking authority, the CDA, that  it has  more missiles than McDonald’s, and needs to provide at least one McDonald’s  for each installed  missile replica.   It has therefore  decided to  upgrade the Capital by installing  on priority basis,  a McDonald’s restaurant  at  Islamabad’s most serene and  beautiful location, the F-9 Park.   Clearly the Missiles and McDonald’s, like the two sides of the same coin, have much in common to offer.  Both give an artificial feeling of satiation, both give a false sense of  power and progress,  both are a burden on foreign exchange, both are bad for health and  both  cause environmental  degradation.

Before we come to the specific issue of why the Islamabad F-9 Park in particular and Pakistan in general  should stop planting  McDonald’s, let us look at some basic facts.  The food-industry’s global advertising budget is $40bn, a figure greater than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 70% of the world’s nations.  For every $1 spent by the World Health Organization on preventing the diseases caused by western  fast food diets, more than $500 is spent by the food industry promoting these diets.  For countries with transitional economies (such as in Eastern Europe), for every $100  invested in fruit and vegetable production, over $1,000 is being invested in soft drinks and confectionery.  So the people of this globe are under a mammoth  life-threatening  attack by high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and drinks operators, whose sole aim is to generate enough profits for themselves and enough downstream business for the pharmaceutical industry.  After all some one must treat  the resulting obesity, diabetes ,  cardiac arrests  and the diet related cancers. The less industrialized countries  and the teenagers are the special targets, as indicated by the phenomenal growth of McDonald’s restaurants  between  1991 to 2001. ( 0 to 103 in South Africa,    11 to 503 in the Middle East / North Africa,    1,458 to 6,748 in Asia,    212 to 1,581 in Latin America  and   15 to 631 in Central and Eastern Europe.)



Equally hazardous ( if not more)  are the sugar laden  fizzy drinks. With every  one glass of  a  benign looking  social drink (a Pepsi or a Coke),  you are also  unconsciously pumping in  6 teaspoons of pure sugar. Together, Pepsi and Coca-Cola spend over  $2.2 billion on advertising in a single year. Recognising that advertising directed at young  children is per se  manipulative,  many countries are putting in place  preventive (in fact protective)   regulations  to avoid the onslaught of junk foods and drinks.   Canada has banned all fizzy drinks in schools and replaced them with milk and juices.  The Canadian province of Quebec has for the past two decades prohibited all advertising directed at children under the age of 13.  Sweden does not permit advertising aimed at children under 12.  In Australia there is a ban on all advertising during pre-school children’s programmes, while  schools are ad-free zones in Japan. School canteens  in UK, are  no longer allowed to serve cheap bangers or burgers, and vending machines  have to sell healthier options instead of crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks.   Many neighbouring Indian states ( Karnataka, Gujrat, Central Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh)  have banned soft drinks from schools, state offices, hospitals and canteens, while Kerala has gone  a step ahead by placing an embargo on sale and production of Pepsi and soft drinks.



The F-9 Park  does not deserve to be disfigured by addition of a  McDonald’s restaurant.  The Park is already being messed-up by the raw sewage  effluent coming from the  affluent  E-9 sector.  Why are we in a rush to inaugurate yet more junk food joints, and convert our finest public spaces into icons of corporate greed.   Does the public know that these burger and fizzy drink restaurants  earn in local currency and  remit money to their corporates  in dollars.   So every burger  that  we eat and every soft drink that we drink, results in  a part of  our foreign  exchange promptly flying back to US.   Finally there is the issue of environmental degradation caused by setting up fast food joints at public places.   Has an Environmental Impact Assessment study been carried out for  the  McDonald’s restaurant proposed for  F-9 Park.  Has it incorporated  inputs from community  and  the stake holders.  Thousands of households in Islamabad chuck  their untreated sewage into nearby  slopes or ‘nullahs’.   Instead of creating more sources of pollution, should the CDA  not give first priority to  collection, treatment, re-use  and disposal of its sewage,  hazardous and non hazardous wastes.   Can the citizens of  Islamabad come together   to push for a ban on  Coke,  Pepsi,  McDonalds,  KFCs,  and  other high-calorie, low-nutrient  foods  and  drinks from all schools, hospitals, parks and government offices of this great capital city.


Naeem Sadiq