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A glimpse of our surroundings

Crystal clear water, animals grazing, people enjoying shade under trees and fish dancing in open water. The ideal scenario in a perfect world but this sadly not the true picture of what we see. Instead we have grown so accustomed to the waste around us, it has become a part of our normal environment and we have become indifferent to it.

Industrial areas like Korangi house more than 3000 various manufacturing plants and chemical factories for textiles, leather, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, etc.  There is little environmental oversight over these industries, and what little we are doing now often proves ineffective.  Highly toxic chemicals are used by many of these factories and are not properly discarded, but instead carelessly dumped into landfills or nearby waters. These pollutants include dangerous chemicals like arsenic, chromium, or lead which can lead to permanent neurological damage. According to a water sampling study done in 2009 by Nadeem-ul-Haq* out of 216 samples taken around Karachi 187 showed high levels of chromium and lead as quantified by the World Health Organization. This study further claimed that these metals may indicate the presence of several more undetected pollutants in our water. Without treating such wastes  we continue to contaminate the land and sea. The consumption of contaminated water leads to diseases such as cholera, typhoid,, or diarrhea and cause injury to the heart and kidneys.

Countless times while driving past the area, I have seen the water changing colors and foam floating due to illegal dumping by factories. Nearby lands where our food grows are affected along with grazing animals such as cattle. I can only speculate the affect of this pollution leaching into our meat and onto our table. Not only is the animal affected but dairy products and meat produced from them are contaminated and unfit for consumption.

Karachi’s mangrove population has shrunk widely due to land and water contamination. These are vital to the ecosystem as their roots provide shelter and breeding grounds for marine life. The polluted waters disrupt marine life and kill fish, destroying the livelihoods of local fishermen. This makes it not only a social issue but an economic one.

The problem isn’t just lack of awareness but to actually make society care and empower them to bring positive change. This attitude in people will make governments give more priority to such sanitary concerns. The government can create and enforce laws to ensure factories are kept in check through regular inspections and monitoring the measures they take to treat and dispose harmful waste.  This and mandating the amount of allowable wastes will help ensure industries are complying as any factories violating these rules can be made to pay for the cleanup. These businesses would then have no choice but to comply to prevent hurting their bottom line.

Aside from creating laws our government must also invest in education and the development of water treatment plants. The governments can build social awareness  using educational messages in Urdu and English utilizing television, radio, newspapers, and social media. By developing a culture of recycling and environmental awareness most people will want to take the responsibility of ensuring they are doing their part. Additionally by developing more treatment plants we can ensure all the waste water gets treated.

Countries like Sweden and Switzerland are amongst the top by reducing waste by more than 90%. They have achieved these targets by investing heavily towards education and creating the necessary infrastructure to ensure wastes are recycled or treated properly. We can learn from their example to create similar programs here and work towards similar goals.

It is important to look at the bigger picture, for example littering, if one litters it may not seem like a big deal. However, if each individual starts to do it this adds up and soon you’ll be looking at a cumulative pileup of trash. Now society as a whole contributes to the problem. Building easily accessible recycling centres that accept these wastes is a possible solution.

We must dispose of waste properly and make sure it doesn’t end up in the water or ruin our environment. We truly can appreciate the importance of water, when a single drop is not available. Clean water is vital for our well being and for our children and grandchildren. The state needs to be made more aware and to care, with the help of policy makers special attention should be given to this issue so we can control and take charge of the issue for the betterment of our families and ultimately all present and future Pakistanis.

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