Nov 14, 2010

Another approach to life

Climate change has the potential to destabilise politics, both at the domestic and international level

By Riaz Missen

A report of the World Bank in 2005 highlighted the grave consequences of building dams and reducing the bed of meandering rivers on ecology and environment of the Indus Valley. It terms Pakistan a water-stressed country. The situation has become even worse since the population has increased manifold but the volume of available water has drastically reduced. The report, while stressing that no additional water can be made available to cater to the growing needs of Pakistan, suggested rational use of this gift of nature as the only remedy.

Though meagre budgetary allocations for environment speak volumes about the neglect which this sector is subjected to, going by the level of awareness among the parliamentarians and the concerned minister, hope about change for good may survive. After all, this was the Lower House where a resolution was submitted by 43 of its members suggesting the government to propose India for the joint management of Himalayan watershed given the consequences the fast melting of glacier can bring for both of the entire South Asian region. One does not know whether the foreign ministry has even taken note of the above-mentioned resolution or not.

Climate change has the potential to destabilise politics, both at the domestic and international national level. Just think about the rising temperature that is bringing seasonal changes. Violent rains, floods and droughts are essential features of the phenomenon. Crop patterns and human settlements may also change. People may be dislocated both due to excess or scarcity of water. Monsoon rains may hit new regions and abandon the lower ones. Over all, the entire situation may come so complicated that country's integrity may be endangered by climate change.

During some upcoming years we may witness the increasing body of water rushing and gushing down Himalayas and reaching Arabian Sea with a lightening speed -- destroying crops and homes and killing people and livestock. Even the Hakra River (this year it flowed), as mighty as Indus but dead since centuries, may revive; the Sutlej River may also change route and rejoin Hakra. Future years may witness droughts, less rains, and no melting glaciers.

The government, for sure, has to take up remedial measures to cope with change in climate. Fortunately, infrastructure is there. Strict implementation of environmental laws constitutes essentials of good governance. Devolution of power is another. More than these steps is reformulation of the development policy so that it confirms to the environmental requirements. Use of poison in agriculture needs to be strictly banned and the industrial units have to be forced to abandon the law. The untreated industrial effluent not only contaminates soil and water but also inflicts huge damage to human health.

It is a myth that Pakistan can't have additional water. At least it is not true in terms of catering to the agricultural needs. Wastewater, which constitutes 32 MAF, goes waste every year. This water can be tapped and treated through the safest method known as bioremediation. The inputs (aquatic plants and microbes) are indigenously available and no equipments are needed to be imported at inflated price.

If the government becomes committed enough to make available to the country 32 MAF water, local and provincial governments may initiate and complete projects on a priority basis. The metropolitans, union councils and housing societies across the country may initiate projects to prevent the sewage water falling into canals and rivers.

Actually, a model project has been completed at Islamabad by National Institute of Bioremediation by diverting the sewage of Chak Shahzad to National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC). The project has been completed in less than one year and wastewater it has treated is being utilised for the cultivation of about 500 acres of barren land.

If the model project is implemented with sincerity in Pakistan, only Lahore produces annually the water that is enough to fill Tarbela Dam in full capacity. The additional benefit of trapping wastewater and bioremediating it will be of drastically cutting down the health budget due to reduction in waterborne diseases the wastewater causes every year. According to estimates, about 114 billion rupees are spent annually to treat patients who, one way or the other, become the victim of pollution in soil and water bodies due to non-treatment of sewage water and industrial effluent.

It is worth mentioning that the 50 percent agricultural needs are being met through pumping out ground water which is dangerous for the aquifers of the dry region, particularly those where there are less rains and water channels (Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej) have ceased to carry floods. Pumping may contaminate water which may cause a number of diseases among human beings. The major load on aquifers occurs during the season in which the wheat crop is sown. Scientists say, if proper planning is made the entire water needs of wheat crop can be met by trapping and treating wastewater.

Besides rethinking development policy, the government will have to resettle its priorities vis-à-vis education and information. The youth needs to be educated about environment and the role humans can play to keep it friendly. The curricula can be organised in an appropriate way. Water not only needs to be saved but properly utilised keeping in mind that no water is a wastewater. Not understanding nature is the worst form of ignorance.

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