It’s no secret: Pakistan, like any other country, has a myriad of issues. Poverty, corruption, illiteracy- it seems as if the problems never end. And they don’t. But some topics are put at the forefront, while others are relegated to the backburner. Pollution in Pakistan is a major concern for environmentalists and public health advocates, yet it rarely receives the press it deserves.
The lack of media coverage is appalling, considering how universal the problem is. It only takes a deep breath in the heart of Karachi to realize how toxic the air quality is. Those with the financial resources are often seen wearing masks, especially when passing by the ever-present steel plants, located in the most densely populated (and lowest earning) parts of the city. For those unable to afford the luxury of a mask, they are forced to breathe the contaminated air.
Pakistan is a relatively young country, founded in 1947 after the British relinquished their hold of the Indian subcontinent. As such, it has had to hyper-industrialize and hyper-urbanize. However, with the fast paced construction and harvesting of natural resources came poor infrastructure and urban planning. As recently as 1990, almost 80% of Pakistanis did not even have access to indoor plumbing. Groundwater is incredibly unhygienic, with waste and pollution making the water foul. This poses a major health problem, especially in the Punjab region where some estimates say as much as 90% of drinking water comes from the groundwater. But don’t take my word for it- just ask any foreigner who has had the misfortune of drinking unfiltered water. These individuals will unequivocally get nauseous and, in most cases, vomit or have diarrhea. If this is the immune system’s response to one glass of water, just imagine the toll it must take on the health of the indigenous Pakistanis.
A study of pollution in Pakistan, or in any country for that matter, reveals a grim reality: it does not affect everyone equally. The reason why one will rarely see pollution covered on the news is that it simply does not affect the CEOs and high-ranking government officials who dictate what actually gets coverage. An upper-middle class parent does not have to worry about his daughter getting dysentery from dirty water. So he doesn’t. And so, an analysis of the repercussions of pollution highlight a “bigger problem” (because caring about the health of our world isn’t big enough for law-makers)- socioeconomic inequality. Outdoor air pollution causes over 80,000 hospital admissions in Pakistan alone, per a World Bank report. It is an unfortunate reality that most, if not all, of the aforementioned patients are from poor backgrounds. In a country where medical bills are astronomically high, these individuals will have trouble paying for their care. Often times, they are forced to resort to taking out loans to pay off their debts to the hospitals. It is from this deplorable cycle of taking out loans to pay back loans that the lower class is trapped in a chain of poverty; they simply cannot escape. They will experience an extremely low quality of life: forced to live in slums worse than those in Slumdog Millionaire, unable to provide basic necessities for their families, and experience high cases of premature mortality and morbidity. Their children are relegated to the worst schooling-the public schooling from the government- if they are able to go to school at all. Many, especially girls, are not even able to get a basic education.
While pollution is not the sole cause of all of these problems, it does play a large role. The Pakistani government must do more to combat the deforestation and declining air quality that is rampaging my homeland. I urge the policy makers to put aside their political differences and make much needed reforms so that their children’s world- MY world, OUR world- will be a safer, cleaner, and healthier place for all.
Photo Attribute: Wiki Commons