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Friday, February 20, 2009

Environment, development & Dr Adil Najam by Ahmad Rafay Alam

As things stand, 35 percent of Pakistan's population of 170 million is urbanized, the highest in South Asia. The UN-Habitat estimates that, within the next decade or so, more than half of Pakistan will live in its cities. And by 2030, this percentage is set to rise to as high as 65%. Keep in mind that, because of the totally scandalous failure of population stabilization policies, by that time there may be as many as 300 million Pakistanis. With our urban infrastructure already bursting at the seams, the question is how our urban planners will provide housing, sanitation, employment, education, healthcare and recreational facilities to the millions streaming into our cities. Dr. Najam's claim that load shedding and climate change were linked was once thought of as a far-fetched connection. But how difficult is it to find a link between climate change and poverty-induced violence in our megacities?Population migration has already started.

In Sindh, because of negligent water-management practices upstream (about 40 percent of water is lost to inefficiency) the River Indus doesn't flow strong enough to keep the salty water of the Arabian Sea from coming inland. The result has been the destruction of parts of the Indus Delta's eco-system. Over 1.2 million acres of arable land have been lost to the sea and salinization. And because whatever water Sindh gets is so heavily contaminated (the city of Lahore, for instance, pipes all its sewage and industrial effluent into the Ravi, which later flows into the Chenab before heading to the Indus), the irrigation water, let alone the canal drinking water rural Pakistanis depend on, is toxic. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistani have already been displaced because of this environmental degradation. Every climate change challenge explained by Dr. Najam is harrowing. Not only are there water shortage, food security crises and population migration issues, but there is also the prospect of disease spreading because of climate change.

But behind each challenge, Dr. Najam sees hope. This is not some patriotic optimism. Even though it is estimated Pakistanis will suffer, there are strategies and tactics available today that will combat these challenges.We have to begin using water sensibly. We cannot allow the wasteful irrigation practices exacerbate already frayed provincial relations. We must invest in sewage and water treatment plants in our cities. We must conserve energy. Dr. Najam points out that Pakistanis, despite nearly 40 percent being in the throes of poverty, pay some of the highest electricity tariffs. And yet, at the same time, we are so wasteful and inefficient in consuming electricity. Can anyone name a single energy efficient structure in existence in Pakistan? Dr. Najam points out that the single largest source of electricity in Pakistan is conservation. Yet has anyone thought twice about building energy efficiency when setting up a new high-rise for the rich?

Dr. Najam's articulate and extremely thought provoking thesis is this: that we cannot ignore the link between development and the environment. We cannot have development that does not consider the environment. Research he conducted some time ago revealed that the total number of Pakistanis killed in all the wars, battles and skirmishes between India and Pakistan is less than the number of children who will die because of contaminated water in Karachi this year alone. For a mother whose child dies, it does not matter whether the death came at the end of a gun or an end of a tap. We have to change our priorities. There can be no development in Pakistan without considering the environment.


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