Tap water for all
March 27, 2019
The Filthy Rich City
March 27, 2019

The Environmental Apartheid


The 5 star Serena Islamabad, best known for its  cost and exclusivity was the venue for holding a one  day seminar  (one lunch and many teas thrown in) on  March 22, 2010 on the subject of ‘National  Drinking Water Policy’. The  Ministry of Environment  endlessly explaining  shortage of funds as  the reason for its utter helplessness had no hesitation in  conducting  this  expensive public relations exercise, just because the  UNICEF was dishing out the dough.    Ironically   a similar funding-driven exercise in 2005 had declared availability of  clean drinking water  for all Pakistanis by 2007.  When no such thing happened even by 2009, a new declaration was made by the government that the promised clean drinking water would now be available to all Pakistanis  by 2025.   This  and  other similar issues are  likely to keep receiving  distant promises as long as they are debated at donor-funded seminars in ‘Serene’  environments by mineral water-drinking  bureaucrats  who have little understanding, skill or inclination to find solutions to such complex problems.


It is now universally accepted that all  citizens have an equal right  to clean air,  water, freedom from excessive and unnecessary noise, and the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic qualities of their environment.  In Pakistan this right of ordinary citizens has been usurped by a  mafia of  ‘environmental terrorists’.  These are a few thousand well-connected, rich, powerful  and insensitive people conspicuous by their large houses, large vehicles,   large ecological footprints and large egos.  The land and water area required to regenerate what they consume as well as to absorb  the waste that they produce  is just about 10 times  more than that of  an average citizen.  In its resource consumption and waste generation, this class of Pakistani ‘environment destroyers’  could well compete with an average American who produces  760 kg of waste per year.


The Ministry of Environment is responsible for the protection and preservation of environment. The lawless privileged elite of Pakistan has however discovered many mutually supportive ways to trample these regulations.    Plot by plot, the beautiful and scenic spots of Nathia Galli, Doonga Galli and the other ‘Galliat’ of  our northern mountains are being divided and allotted to the friends and families of the rich, powerful and connected people of Pakistan. Every year some more of the finest spots, which are in fact  public property (and the property of the   future generations), are forever snatched away and given to one of these “environmental terrorists”.  These are invariably the well placed  bureaucrats, generals, politicians, ambassadors and ministers who  manage to (much like the prohibited gun licenses and other privileges ) get these plots allotted to themselves. The former MMA Chief Minister Akram Khan Durrani, using his own discretionary powers allotted a large plot to himself at Doonga Galli.   He now has a palatial house built on this plot, taking away for all times, a beautiful piece of natural forest from the ordinary people and the future generations. An even better portion is now owned by Hamza Sharif.  For each such home, special roads are built to provide easy vehicular access, thus adding to the noise pollution and  further destroying the forest and the natural scenery. The places where ordinary citizens could visit are rapidly shrinking and being replaced by the residences of the privileged. This legalized environmental segregation  is a form of  environmental apartheid that needs to be stopped and reversed.



The  right  to walk and the right to cycle – the two rather ancient rights always enjoyed by the ordinary people  have now been taken away by the  vehicle owning inconsiderate urban  militants.   They make sure that of the 90 billion rupees  being spent on the development of Karachi, not a single penny is  spent for developing walking tracks or cyclist paths.  It must all go into a cobweb of underpasses, over heads and signal-free corridors – a development model tilted  in favour of polluting  gas guzzlers instead of  Eco-friendly cyclists.


More than 80% factories of Pakistan do not treat their effluents nor scrub the environmentally damaging carbon, sulphur and nitrogen laden gases.  Less than 10 percent hospitals treat their hazardous biological waste. Others  simply pop it across the road. While the Ministry remains busy in its foreign funded seminars, the  people of Pakistan  suffer the destruction of their land, air and water resources  by the criminal negligence of  a small group of  irresponsible and callous individuals.  The environmental rights of ordinary citizens are  also denied when  the corrupt political groups and the tanker mafia  siphon off as much as 40% of Karachi’s water supply and  sell it at exorbitant rates to residents, generating an estimated  300 crore rupees every year. Even the animals and the rare species are not spared. The same eco-enemy mafia that distributes all the weapon licenses between itself  and its  cronies, also manages to obtain hunting licenses to deprive the ordinary citizens of another environmental resource that belongs to them and their future generations.


It is the responsibility of the state and its institutions to protect the environmental rights  of the ordinary people. The misuse and distribution of precious environmental resources  amongst a small  minority of powerful influential  class must be stopped.  It is time to put an end to this environmental apartheid and declare all elements of  environment a common heritage, equally accessible to all citizens of Pakistan.

Naeem Sadiq

Dawn March 2010