In my recent trip of Neelum Valley, I was saddened by the rapid pollution of the beautiful Neelum River, which now has become a sewage and domestic waste receiver for the people dwelling on its banks. The colour of the river’s water has changed from blue to grey due to an uncontrolled sewage wastes being thrown into it. The tourists and locals did not even spare the majestic Barkati Lake situated at 12,130 feet above sea level at Ratti Galli, Dawarian. Plenty of plastic bags, used plates and loads of trash was littered around the lake giving it a look one is familiar with the notion of ‘footprint of Pakistani people’. If one comes down to Muzaffarabad, an environment caring person would get a heart attack at the remorseless acts of people who have turned the Neelum and Jehlum rivers as ‘dynamic dustbins’. This does not end here. All along our rivers, wastes and pollutants, both domestic and industrial, are thrown ending up into the Arabian Sea. Pakistan has progressively lost nearly 25 million of agricultural land due to soil erosion – the contributors being salinity and waterlogging. According to Food & Agricultural Organization of United Nations report ‘Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015’, forest cover in Pakistan, which is 1.9 % of land (with an additional 2 % ‘other wooded land’), is extremely low as opposed to a required area of 20-30% of total land. Pakistan’s forest depleted from 1990-2015 at an annual rate of 2.1 %, i.e., in 1990 Pakistan had a forest extent of 2.527 million hectare, whereas it reduced to 1.472 million hectare by 2015(One hectare is equal to 0.01 square kilometre). This simply means that forest area in Pakistan disappeared at a staggering 43,000 hectares/year, within 1990-2015, and no one seemed to have done anything about it. Regeneration of forests and replantation initiatives have been ineffective, piecemeal and disjointed due to abysmal focus by the Government. Only in the mangroves, Pakistan was able to replant mangroves over an area of 95,000 hectares in 2015. Mr. Park argues that, “these are alarming rates considering the low level of forest coverage in the country together with high ecological value of forests in maintaining the life support system.”

Since no serious attempt has been made to preserve the forests or replant trees, therefore, in near future the rising demand of timber (which is about 5.0 million cubic meters per year now) will not let the Government pragmatically plan for recovery of lost forests. Sharp imbalance between demand and supply of timber and need for more agricultural land logically implies rate of forest depletion will enhance thus bringing climatic changes and extinction of many species of birds and animals. International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an international organization working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, has declared 33 mammals (endemic to Pakistan) as ‘critically endangered’ on IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This is one consequence of decreasing forests and increasing pollution. There are 2 species of fish and 22 various types of marine animals, which are at serious risk of being extinct in Pakistan’s rivers and seas. Cumulatively impact of the disappearance of these species will critically disturb the ecosystem subsequently resulting into an environment very unfriendly for human existence.

Kemari Jetty presents our society, which perhaps does not need an elaboration for what it’s (the society’s) defining markers may be – illiterate, unaware and indifferent. A society that is unable to gauge what is best for it and what could be harmful would always wrestle hard to survive. Millions of cubic meters of untreated water is dumped daily into the Arabian Sea from Karachi. We think we are too poor to afford plants to treat water before it goes into the river or sea; some may say we have problems far greater than the pollution and climate change. These arguments, at the end of the day, would become highly indigestible regrets when we would be struggling for food and water. Imagine a scenario – though it might not happen in our lifetime – that our seas become so polluted to keep any fish alive, the subsoil water is dried up and the rain patterns are altered to become harmful instead of being useful for humans – what shape and form the survival might take, it is difficult to tell. The description of Kemari Jetty, which actually compelled me to write this piece, does not present a simple dirt, but a deep rooted trouble the bottom-line of which is: rampant corruption, illiteracy and poverty. In an environment of poor transparency there is hardly any planning that could help avoid deforestation, effective environment conservation and poverty alleviation. When the timber mafia is permitted to cut down trees at will; when the land-grabbers are allowed to clear the trees off mountains and build housing societies; when the industrialists pay bribes to get away from the requirement to treat the waste; when the municipal administration fails to provide basic facilities to its people to avoid spread of pollution and trash – then a malnourished, illiterate and a homeless garbage thrower on the shores of Arabian Sea would care nothing of the environment and the consequences of his action as he only fights to live another day. State and society have a greater responsibility to be proactive and own the cost of acts of the garbage thrower– which, in our case, unfortunately considerably suffers from lack of vision and action. Individually, people who care about the environment and the future of our children have a ‘moral’ obligation to spread the message the places like Kemari Jetty, which is: we have set course for environment destruction, we need to act now, lest it becomes irretrievable!

The question is what we can do now? First and foremost of all, what I call the ‘Individual Social Responsibility’ or the ISR, with that each one of us has a duty to create awareness among our family members, friends and colleagues. ISR may not be a documented social covenant but a binding on everyone to become part of a collective good. Teaching our children about the consequences and dangers of pollution must be our first task and that we could show it by example. On weekly basis we can take our kids to the neighbourhood for picking up trash and disposing it off at the designated places or dustbins. Those living in Karachi can visit the seaside and let the children contribute in environment conservation by cleaning waste or clearing pollutants, which are found near shores. Students from environmental studies departments of various universities can be engaged by KPT for initiatives like ‘Healthy Seas’, ‘Clean Shores’ or ‘Saving Oceans’ etc., especially focusing on Karachi Harbour. Corporate world is supposed to give back to the society in the name of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ or the CSR; private companies can make a huge difference through CSR. Major industries located in Karachi, especially the chemical processing companies, have significantly contributed towards devastation of Karachi’s marine environment and now they must act to, at least, stop the trend, if not reversed. Pakistan Navy has been actively contributing towards environmental protection, however, it alone cannot negotiate with the hilarious task of getting rid of the pollution that has spread wide and far in Karachi Harbour. A joint PN-KPT-PMSA ‘Marine Environment Protection’ initiative needs to be launched on emergency basis, which may be led by one of the stakeholders. The initiative can propose measures and procedures for reducing pollution; ways and means to treat the sewage water being dumped into our seas from Karachi city and penalties for people using the seas, benefiting from its riches but caring less for its sustenance. If it is not done now, then we may not have the future worth spending on the seashores of Karachi.