ISLAMABAD: A new World Bank report released on Monday here warns that environmental degradation is threatening to undermine Pakistan growth prospects. According to the study, Pakistan Strategic Environmental Assessment, the degradation of its resource base and high burden of disease is costing Pakistan at least six percent of GDP or about Rs. 365 billion. Nearly 50 percent of the environmental damage cost is attributed to illness and premature mortality caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution, the report said.
It said that indoor air pollution alone is the reason for 30,000 child deaths per year. Around one-third of the cost, or 1.8 percent of GDP, is due to death and illness resulting from waterborne diseases caused by inadequate water supply, sanitation, and hygiene. In addition, reduced agricultural productivity due to soil salinity and erosion accounts for about 20 percent of the cost.
The report says the costs of environmental degradation fall disproportionately upon poor people as they are most exposed to poor environmental quality. Poor people often have pre-existing health conditions which can worsen by inadequate environmental quality, and they have less access to care when they get ill. Overall, environmental health risks are estimated to contribute more than 20 percent of the total burden of disease.
Environmental damage has severe impact in both rural and urban areas, the report says. Over 60 percent of Pakistan’s population is rural and depend on natural resources such agricultural soils, water, rangelands and forests that are strained and degrading, the study revealed. It further disclosed that the sustainability of agricultural production is under severe environmental threat. Nearly 40 percent of the country’s irrigated land is water-logged, and 14 percent is saline. Forest and rangeland production is also at risk, the report added.
Report further said the estimated cost of deforestation is between Rs. 206 to 334 million per annum, and up to 80 percent of the rangeland is degraded. Further, with more than one-third of the population living in towns and cities, Pakistan is the most urbanized country in South Asia, and exposure to urban and industrial pollution is a rapidly growing concern. In all major cities, airborne particulate matter exceeds safe levels and causes some 22,700 deaths annually.
Since adopting the National Conservation Strategy (NCS) in 1992, the Government of Pakistan has made considerable progress in raising public awareness of environmental issues, and establishing a framework for environmental management. The National Environmental Action Plan was approved by the Government in early 2001, and a new and far-reaching National Environmental Policy (NEP) was adopted in 2005, accompanied by a significant increase in the budget allocated for environmental management.
Yet, many challenges remain, the report said. The main binding constraints to improving environmental performance include gaps in incentives and accountability, institutional design, the regulatory framework, and capacity limitations. Currently, Pakistan lacks standards for the quality of ambient air and water. Such standards are the foundation upon which emission control strategies are based.
“There is an urgent need for investments by both the public and private sectors to improve the quality of air and water,” said Paul Jonathan Martin, World Bank Senior Environmental Specialist and leader of the team that prepared the report. “It is absolutely critical that the regulatory framework is upgraded to set health-based air quality standards, use-based water quality standards, and standards for drinking water. Vehicle emission and fuel quality standards should also be updated,” He stated.
The report calls for building partnerships between federal, provincial and municipal authorities for clean air, and to define responsibilities for water quality protection. The report also recommends the creation of incentive-based partnerships between federal and provincial environmental protection agencies, with resources being provided based on performance in meeting NEP goals, and accountability ensured through annual public reporting of progress in achieving NEP targets. Martin said transparency in environmental management must be promoted in order to empower stakeholders. “Public scrutiny of performance is ultimately a source of strength that leads to stronger institutions with greater public trust and support,” he added.-SANA