Environment and economic development


ASRA ZAFAR

The old notion of “Development versus Environment” has given ways to a new view in which better environmental stewardship is essential to sustain development.

WORLD BANK, WORLD BANK ATLAS, 1997 Such an account was derived after thorough research and observation on the rapidly changing geographic and demographics of the world which sequentially was indicating its effect on poverty, population growth, rural and urban development and availability of resources, particularly in the third world countries.

For centuries, a usually implicit debate has prevailed between what have come to be called” economics” and “development” on one side, and the “preservation of nature” and “ecology” on the other. In the past quarter century, as environmental management has become an increasingly explicit and significant matter requiring the attention of governments, corporations, communities, and individuals, this dichotomy has begun to break down.

The resolution of this debate involves much more than ecology and economics; it includes different approaches to the organisation of social and production systems, orientations towards the past and the future, and philosophies of science.

The range of environmental problems perceived to be major threats to human welfare has expanded considerably over the past two decades, from pollution issues at local, regional and then international scales, to widespread natural resource depletion and degradation, to truly global concerns such as climate change and ozone layer.

Like many other developing nations bent on accelerating their rate of economic growth, Pakistan has paid little attention to the sustainability of its resource base and the quality of its natural environment. As a result of this neglect, forests have been indiscriminately decimated, urban areas are choking in pollution, and agricultural soils are being rapidly depleted of their nutrients.

The availability of natural resources is limited by the dry climate and mountainous terrain, substantial population growth is increasing pressure on the resource base, and resource management has suffered from the emphasis on rapid economic growth and often unregulated forms of economic productivity. As a result, human transformation of the environment is manifest in several problems.

Population growth and poor water infrastructure have reduced per capita water availability from 53,000 cubic meters to 1,200 cubic meters, and heavy reliance on firewood has contributed to the world’s second highest rate of deforestation.

Additionally, almost all fresh water resources are severely polluted due to discharge of untreated industrial and municipal wastes. Pollution of coastal waters due to waste discharges and oil spills coupled with reduced freshwater flows is resulting in declining fish yields.

Poor agricultural practices have led to soil erosion, groundwater degradation, and other problems that have hindered crop output and contributed to health problems for rural communities. Solid waste burning, low-quality fuels, and the growing use of fuel-inefficient motor vehicles have contributed to air pollution that in some cities-such as Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi-has exceeded levels deemed safe by the World Health Organisation.

Recent surveys conducted by Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency revealed the presence of very high levels of suspended particulate matter (about 6 times higher than the World Health Organisation’s guidelines). Noise Pollution has become a serious major issue in the urban areas.

This has been on the rise due to increased number of vehicles on the road. Moreover the “Night Life” culture has gripped these urban centers which in turn reduces the relaxation time for people at home and causes great disturbance. This tends to reduce the efficiency of the individuals at work in the morning and is a major contributor to the increased stress and depression among our people.

Following this is the issue of conservation of energy regarding which our country has been quite reluctant. Geographically Pakistan is a rich country having a valuable coast and five rivers.

The fact is that there have always been initiatives and negotiations by successive governments to have reserves of waters by conserving dams thereby facilitating a convenient mode of power generation. But the dilemma is that there have never been any productive outcomes and the negotiations have failed due to political disagreements within the country or with our neighbours.

The result, however, is the prolonged and undeclared loadshedding, completely disrupting the routine lives of the residents. Another essential outcome of this environmental degradation is the rural-urban migration which has significantly increased during the past few years. Despite having natural resources at their hands, the people in the rural areas, due to lack of expertise and knowledge are unable to make full use of them for their betterment.

Rather they look for migrating to the urban areas as the last option to make their ends meet. This sequentially increases the burden on the already suffering urban population and further widens the gap for economic development. When analysed seriously, these troubles are definitely posing severe threat to the economic development which is currently and has been measured in terms of inappropriate bases ie the GDP, the GNP, balance of payment.

There is no two way about the fact that the availability and rotation of goods and services among the nationals, the terms of imports and exports and the increased expansion in terms of infrastructure and few significant inventions are indicators of progress and development for a country.

But such indicators lose their significance and the development becomes stagnant when the natural resources get exhausted, the working environment becomes polluted, the population gets crowded into certain areas and when there is no preservation of such important resources.

Therefore, in an attempt to redress the previous inattention to the nation’s mounting environmental problems, in 1992 the then government issued its National Conservation Strategy Report (NCSR) outlining Pakistan’s state of environmental health, its sustainable goals, and viable program options for the future with the National Conservation Goals.

Following early successes in Pakistan’s implementing its National Conservation Strategy, progress has stalled due to institutional failure on the part of the government policies and practices. In addition to policy ineffectiveness and corruption, Pakistan has not funded environmental protection efforts adequately.

A January 2000 report released by the Ministry of Environment showed that Pakistan currently spends about $17 million per year on pollution-related cleanup; however, $84 million is needed to correct the country’s environmental problems, and $1.8 billion per year in added health care costs stem from pollution-related causes.

A lack of funding is evident in Pakistan’s environmental protection efforts. The former government cited lack of funds as the reason for delay in establishing the Pakistan Environment Protection Council, an environmental protection watchdog group that the government had agreed to set up several years ago (but only recently established).

However, the SDPI has estimated that the government allocates just 0.04% of the total public sector development program budget on the environment, and 70% of the funds for environment are loans from foreign lenders. The SDPI has estimated the staggering cost of environmental neglect in Pakistan as between 3%-5% of GDP, projected to reach 4%-8% by 2010.

A World Bank pilot project in the province of Balochistan, if successful, could prove a national model for protecting Pakistan’s environment and managing its natural resources. In addition to strengthening Balochistan’s institutions involved with environmental protection and natural resource use so they are better able to undertake their responsibilities, the project seeks to empower local communities and involve them in the design and implementation of natural resources’ development and management.

The project also will work to improve provincial natural resources policies so that natural resources are used in an efficient and sustainable manner, publicise environmental issues, and implement high priority operations and pilot programs to rehabilitate and develop damaged natural resources. The World Bank’s pilot programs are designed according to the objectives and strategies of Pakistan’s National Conservation Strategy.

However, Pakistan’s previous environmental record is poor, and the country has not been able to back up its commitment to environmental protection with action until now. It is clear that Pakistan will need to place greater emphasis on environmental protection in order to stem the country’s environmental degradation and safeguard citizens’ health.

The need of the day states that Pakistan will need to focus on four additional priority objectives if it is to succeed in promoting sustained and equitable economic development: (1) a reduction in population growth, (2) a major effort to upgrade human resources through the continued expansion of educational and health services, (3) a reduction in chronic fiscal and foreign trade deficits through policies designed to promote the privatisation of state-owned industries and the expansion of export markets, and (4) a reversal or at least a curtailment of the serious environmental stresses currently being placed on the country’s natural resource base, particularly in the three key areas of forestland preservation, water supply for irrigation and reduction of salinization on agricultural land.

It is essential, however, that in the process of achieving these objectives, Pakistan maintain its stated commitment to protect low-income groups from any adverse consequences

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