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World environment day: Pakistan needs more water, Business Recorder, Dr. Mirza Arshad Ali Beg 6/5/2003


ARTICLE (June 05 2003): It has become customary to commemorate the World Environment Day with a certain theme on June 5 each year, starting with the first Conference held in Stockholm in 1972.

The theme for this year is: Water-two billion people are dying for it! Like all other themes of the UN agencies, this is also rhetoric.

Pakistan should nevertheless take it seriously since its people are already fighting and dying for it.

Its per capita availability of water has already slipped from 5650 m3 in 1951 to less than 800 m3 as of the past five years, and it is grouped among water-starved countries as are all such countries that have a per capita availability of less than 1000 m3. Pakistan therefore definitely
needs more water.

It was mentioned in these pages earlier that climate change of some kind has disrupted the eastern monsoon system and also that the chance of reversing the system are feeble.

It was also suggested that Pakistan will have to live with about 100 MAF or 123 km3 of water.

It would for that reason be prudent for the governing hierarchy of Pakistan to go all out for conservation and augmentation of the supply through one of the established technologies.

It may be reminded that it will be the upgradation of the environment that will regenerate water in quantities that will make up for at least 40 percent of the needs.

When available this quantity should supplement the present requirement of the urban areas and industries since they are short by just as much quantity.

Technologies such as the tile drainage system will, besides regenerating the soil, while sprinkle and drip irrigation systems if adopted will conserve the water by saving the wastages and seepages.

With regard to upgradation of the environment as the means to attain the objective of making more water available, it is strongly felt that the matter should not be left to the industrialists or the local governments, for the simple reason that the two sectors neither have the means nor the urge to do so.

The industry is particularly not in a position to bear the internal and external shocks, to sustain its investment friendly stance and is at present not able to properly handle the issues regarding environmental degradation.

It is no denying the fact that the two sectors have been so badly impoverished of their resources that it will be too much to ask them to upgrade the environment themselves or to pay for upgradation through another system of taxes called pollution charges.

If we examine the industrial scenario, it will be found that the industries need sympathetic rather than harsh treatment.

It may be true that a few export-oriented industries, which have to meet environmental standards, are already attending to control of pollution.

But they are not many and their treatment methodology has not made a dent on the status of degradation since the effluent discharged from various industrial estates whether in Karachi or elsewhere is still as highly toxic as in 1997 when the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act
was passed.

The reason that the industrial units need sympathy is that they are not able to and will not be able to comply with the requirements of Environmental Protection Act of 1997.

This is because they are so hard pressed by the rising cost of inputs and the tax burden that that their very survival is at stake.

They are at present in the same position as the European Industries were in the 1980s, when, instead of upgradation of their units to meet the environmental requirements, they chose to close down.

Furthermore the global economic recession has already rendered many industries non-viable and hence a huge responsibility is placed on the shoulders of the governance system to bring sustainability to the industrial sector.

The root cause of degradation of industrial environment in Pakistan, it may be pointed out, is lower economy of scale in the manufacturing sector.

Middle and small scale industries need to be provided all the basic infrastructure facilities including waste and wastewater disposal facilities, which in the case of this country, have been ignored.

The said facilities are the backbone of the industrial production system. At the time of launching on the industrialisation programme in the country there was no compulsion on treatment of the effluent.

The often quoted example is that of the Sindh Industrial Trading Estate at Manghopir Road in Karachi.

A sewerage network was provided here and industrialists were required to use it only if the effluent had been adequately treated.

The industrialists did not have the urge to incur additional expenditure on effluent treatment and opted to go by default.

At that time it was the Factories Act of 1934 that was allowed to be violated by whoever was responsible.

The violation at Karachi was followed wherever the industrial units were established.

Coming to think of it, the violation had to be allowed by the Department of Industries since it was its responsibility to provide the infrastructure facilities of which a combined effluent treatment plant should have become an integral part.

The governing hierarchy of the time had given due regard to the peculiar circumstances in which Pakistan launched on the programme for industrialisation and to the fact that it was able to establish only small and medium size units that could not bear the expenditure on
effluent treatment.

It may be added here that when the National Environmental Quality Standards, NEQS were being introduced in 1996, and the stage was being set for levying penalties in terms of Pollution Charges as a means to control industrial pollution, the industrialists did plead their case to sympathise with them.

The levy of charges was deferred when Mr S.M. Muneer the then President of Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry, FPCCI argued that the local industry was already faced with various domestic and international problems and would not be able to bear the harsh penalties provided in the Bill that was to become Pakistan Environmental Protection Act in 1997.

He had pleaded for due consideration by the Government to the problems of the business community and for providing facilities and incentives so that it is able to properly handle the issue regarding environmental degradation by the industries.

He made a strong plea for the small and medium size industries, particularly the textile units and the tanneries, pointing out that many of them do not have space for the establishment of an effluent treatment plant.

That position has not changed. The need of the time is to support a strategy that collectively addresses the environmental problems faced by small and medium scale industries.

Their problems relate to upgrading the working conditions by adopting good housekeeping practices and improving the operation of the almost outmoded industrial units or discarding them in favour of introduction of cleaner production technologies to control pollution and subsequently to establish combined effluent treatment plants if the unit or units are located in an industrial estate.

The solution to their problems could be attended to by having a demonstration plant so that the technology developed for a set of units in a certain sector could be transferred with suitable modification to units of the same sector.

It was for this reason that the Environmental Technology Programme for Industry, ETPI was established by FPCCI in collaboration with and financial support from the Netherlands Government. Unfortunately the programme did not attend to the basic issue of quantifying, much less in controlling pollution from the polluting industries located in the industrial estates by giving them or developing for them the technology for combined effluent treatment.

It thus failed to help or prepare the industries in controlling pollution and recycling of wastewater.

The result was that after five years the issue with regard to control of pollution and regeneration of water was back to the position of 1995-96, and the wastewater continues to be wasted.

In the absence of a combined effluent treatment facility, the wastewater is being allowed to flow into the nearest stream which in case of Karachi discharges the same into Lari or Malir Rivers and in the case of Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Hyderabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Rawalpindi or Sialkot into the nearest channel, surface water drains or the irrigation drainage canal and some times even in the link canals themselves.

Municipal wastewater mixed with industrial wastes is discharged in the cities and towns, into lined channels, which in some cases eg in Karachi, Lahore and Faisalabad, are diverted into fields for growing vegetable crops.

In some towns and industrial estates, they are allowed to flow into open fields where they form lagoons and from there they flow into channels of the streams or nullahs which were running dry in the past eg in Kasur and on Sheikhupura Road.

The sugar industries in the towns, eg the ones in Bhalwal near Sargodha and the one south of Mirpur Sakro, discharge their wastewaters into surface drainage canals.

In a majority of cases they are discharged into drainage canals, canals, rivers or the sea, whichever is nearest in location.

The industrial units are on the one hand wasting the wastewater and on the other hand they are hard pressed for good quality surface water.

In view of the non-availability of this precious commodity from the perennial rivers, which are during the last decade often found in short supply, many of these units have resorted to the use of sub-soil water, which is invariably brackish.

The saline or brackish sub-soil water is unfit for human consumption and also unsuitable for most of the industrial uses, including processing in the textile units.

The sub-soil waters of the two major textile centres of the country, Karachi and Faisalabad, are highly saline and as such are not suitable for producing high quality finished textile products.

These centres require about 50 MGD of water each for their processing and hence meet their requirement by extracting the sub-soil water either by the mills directly or by the tanker water suppliers.

The quality of sub-soil water adversely affects the quality of fabrics and hence there is an increasing demand for treatment of the subsoil water.

Some of the textile units in Karachi have adopted the Reverse Osmosis, RO process for demineralisation of brackish water.

This, however, is at best an ad-hoc solution to the problem of water scarcity and a recent induction for the commissioning of the process by the KPT shows promise that it can be adopted for large scale operations of the order of several million gallons per day.

The industrialists have had to adopt this self-help but selfish attitude for getting an additional supply which was not forthcoming from the deficient infrastructure made available to the industries and industrial estates. It would have been much better if the industries had been
provided the combined effluent treatment facility.

The treated wastewater would then have been available for regeneration by one of the technologies for the purpose.

It is therefore suggested that instead of taxing the industries or making them pay the pollution charges, the governing hierarchy should spend its energy in setting up combined effluent treatment plants and treat the wastewater to regenerate fresh water.

The industrialist will of course pay for the water processed in this manner and the governance system will benefit both by upgrading the environment and making additional water available for the industries.

(The writer is a former Director General of PCSIR)
Copyright 2003 Business Recorder