Environmental pollution, unhygienic practices and surroundings, inadequate and inappropriate arrangements for disposal of waste, lack of cleanliness and poor sanitation are the major problems confronting the third world countries including Pakistan which not only affect health of the citizens but also contribute to climatic changes, regarded as the biggest threat to the human lives and the mother earth itself. Keeping the cities clean, adopting hygienic practices, building a good sanitation network and planting of trees to give a green look to the landscape are therefore indispensable compulsions. Our religion also gives lot of importance to cleanliness. According to Islamic injunction cleanliness is half the faith.

There is no denying the fact the successive governments have not given due priority to these issues and the results are before us. Karachi and Lahore are ranked as the most polluted cities. Other cities more or less also face similar situation. Choked gutters, blocked sewerage channels with dirty water spilling onto the streets, garbage littered streets, open garbage dumps within the localities and the poisonous smoke billowing from the burning garbage are common sights in our cities, mourning the apathy of our civic bodies and insensitivity of the citizens to their filthy surroundings and the lurking health hazards.

According to a report compiled by WaterAid, Pakistan is the seventh worst country in the world in terms of access to basic sanitation facilities. While 42 percent of the total population in Pakistan remains without access to at least basic sanitation at this time, a staggering 79 million in Pakistan still lack a decent toilet, while 37 percent people have no system for wastewater disposal, which leads to spread of diseases due to contamination of water and contact with human waste. Green strips and green areas are a rare sight in the urban centers and the road sides are without trees giving a shabby look to the city environment. It is an established fact that diseases associated with poor sanitation conditions are major cause of diarrhea and the second biggest killer of children in developing countries. They also affect children’s physical development and school attendance. Environmental impacts of poor sanitation and waste management at a local level include pollution of land and watercourses, the visual impact of litter, and bad odours. Improving access to sanitation is a critical step towards reducing the impact of these diseases. It also helps to create physical environments that enhance safety, dignity and self-esteem.

It is, however, encouraging to note that the PTI government under the stewardship Prime Minister Imran Khan has initiated credible and imaginative measures to tackle these problems. Last Monday the Prime Minister inaugurated the Clean and Green Pakistan Index, a project that will, in its initial phase, rank 19 cities in Punjab and KP on their cleanliness and green character. This ranking will invoke competition among cities for improving their infrastructure and environment sustainability. They will be judged on different criteria including sanitation. The programme is premised on five pillars which are: Plantation, safe water, safer sanitation, Hygiene and Liquid waste management and solid waste management.

To ensure support of the citizens to this campaign, the Prime Minister also launched an initiative named ‘Clean Green Champions Programme’. The theme of the programme ‘My City My Responsibility’ is designed to seek participation of the citizens on voluntary basis for keeping the cities clean, improving civic amenities and creating in them the spirit and sense of owning their habitats and cities. It is indeed an imaginative step. After the launch of I billion tree plantation in KPK and the campaign for adding 10 billion trees in the entire country during the next five years, it is yet another positive move towards improving environment and cleanliness in the country by the incumbent government.

The programme envisages to enlist the support and backing of the citizens to the civic bodies for this national effort. It is an undeniable fact that no government programme can achieve desired results without cooperative disposition of the people imbued with civic sense and aware of their obligations towards the society. The government has also set up a website with an interactive portal and mobile application for registration of the citizens who want to volunteer their participation in the proramme and to record their contributions to the initiative. A person aspiring to be Clean Green Champion will volunteer to lead three types of activities namely self-help services in cleanliness and plantation activities, support services to the local government and municipality and awareness campaigns.

To provide incentives to the participating citizens a system of points and perks has also been evolved. A list of marks that a volunteer can get for different activities he participates in has been drawn and a person getting the highest marks will be declared a champion in that domain and his services would be duly acknowledged and rewarded. There will be five categories of champions namely Basic Champion, Silver Champion. Gold Champion, Platinum champion and Diamond champion who will be selected on the basis of the range of marks fixed for each category. The persons becoming champions in Diamond and Platinum category will have the opportunity to meet the President and the Prime Minister besides being invited to difference official functions. The contribution and services of the persons winning the title of champions in other countries will also be acknowledged and appreciated by arranging ceremonies in their honour and invitation to related official functions.

The concept and approach adopted by the government to create awareness among the masses on the subjects chosen for the campaign and their participation is beyond reproach and needs to be appreciated. However its success will depend on the ability of the government and the civic bodies to implement the programme in letter and spirit without losing their focus on the way.

The writer is a freelance columnist.