Pollution and Environmental Issues
Little attention was paid to pollution and environmental issues
in Pakistan until the early 1990s. Related concerns, such as sanitation
and potable water, received earlier scrutiny. In 1987 only about
6 percent of rural residents and 51 percent of urban residents
had access to sanitary facilities; in 1990 a total of 97.6 million
Pakistanis, or approximately 80 percent of the population, had
no access to flush toilets. Greater success has been achieved
in bringing potable water within reach of the people; nearly half
the population enjoyed such access by 1990. However, researchers
at the Pakistan Medical Research Council, recognizing that a large
proportion of diseases in Pakistan are caused by the consumption
of polluted water, have been questioning the "safe" classification
in use in the 1990s. Even the 38 percent of the population that
receives its water through pipelines runs the risk of consuming
seriously contaminated water, although the problem varies by area.
In Punjab, for example, as much as 90 percent of drinking water
comes from groundwater, as compared with only 9 percent in Sindh.
The central government's Perspective Plan (1988-2003) and previous
five-year plans do not mention sustainable development strategies
(see Development Planning , ch. 3). Further, there have been no
overarching policies focused on sustainable development and conservation.
The state has focused on achieving selfsufficiency in food production,
meeting energy demands, and containing the high rate of population
growth, not on curtailing pollution or other environmental hazards.
In 1992 Pakistan's National Conservation Strategy Report
attempted to redress the previous inattention to the nation's
mounting environmental problem. Drawing on the expertise of more
than 3,000 people from a wide array of political affiliations,
the government produced a document outlining the current state
of environmental health, its sustainable goals, and viable program
options for the future (see National Conservation Goals , this
Of special concern to environmentalists is the diminishing forest
cover in watershed regions of the northern highlands, which has
only recently come under close scrutiny. Forest areas have been
thoughtlessly denuded. Deforestation, which occurred at an annual
rate of 0.4 percent in 1989-90, has contributed directly to the
severity of the flooding problem faced by the nation in the early
As industry has expanded, factories have emitted more and more
toxic effluents into the air and water. The number of textile
and food processing mills in rural Punjab has grown greatly since
the mid-1970s, resulting in pollution of its rivers and irrigation
canals. Groundwater quality throughout the country has also suffered
from rapidly increasing use of pesticides and fertilizers aimed
at promoting more intensive cropping and facilitating self-sufficiency
in food production.
The National Conservation Strategy Report has documented
how solid and liquid excreta are the major source of water pollution
in the country and the cause of widespread waterborne diseases.
Because only just over half of urban residents have access to
sanitation, the remaining urban excreta are deposited on roadsides,
into waterways, or incorporated into solid waste. Additionally,
only three major sewage treatment plants exist in the country;
two of them operate intermittently. Much of the untreated sewage
goes into irrigation systems, where the wastewater is reused,
and into streams and rivers, which become sewage carriers at low-flow
periods. Consequently, the vegetables grown from such wastewater
have serious bacteriological contamination. Gastroenteritis, widely
considered in medical circles to be the leading cause of death
in Pakistan, is transmitted through waterborne pollutants (see
Health and Welfare , this ch.).
Low-lying land is generally used for solid waste disposal, without
the benefit of sanitary landfill methods. The National Conservation
Strategy has raised concerns about industrial toxic wastes also
being dumped in municipal disposal areas without any record of
their location, quantity, or toxic composition. Another important
issue is the contamination of shallow groundwater near urban industries
that discharge wastes directly into the ground.
Water in Karachi is so contaminated that almost all residents
boil it before consuming it. Because sewerage and water lines
have been laid side by side in most parts of the city, leakage
is the main cause of contamination. High levels of lead also have
been found in water in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Air pollution has also become a major problem in most cities.
There are no controls on vehicular emissions, which account for
90 percent of pollutants. The National Conservation Strategy
Report claims that the average Pakistani vehicle emits twenty-five
times as much carbon monoxide, twenty times as many hydrocarbons,
and more than three and one-half times as much nitrous oxide in
grams per kilometer as the average vehicle in the United States.
Another major source of pollution, not mentioned in the National
Conservation Strategy Report, is noise. The hyperurbanization
experienced by Pakistan since the 1960s has resulted in loose
controls for heavy equipment operation in densely populated areas,
as well as in crowded streets filled with buses, trucks, automobiles,
and motorcycles, which often honk at each other and at the horse-drawn
tongas (used for transporting people) and the horse-drawn rehras
(used for transporting goods).
Data as of April 1994