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Environment and public health are closely linked because environment directly affects health of community, or public health.
Environmental concerns in Pakistan are not raised often. It is not the kind of topic which may be seen consistently in public forums, be those related to industry, agriculture, or society at large. Public health also receives little attention usually.
On February 24, 2021, an article by Umama Izbel and Rabial Urooj from Department of Environmental Studies, University of the Punjab, Lahore was published in the Journal of Pollution Effects and Control. It is titled ‘Pakistan Environmental and Public Health Issues’ and is an open access article. The link appears at the end of this post. It is a very well written article, and I shall be quoting heavily from it in this post.
According to this article, Pakistan is facing three major environmental issues.
Water Pollution and Scarcity
In Pakistan, drinking water sources i.e. surface and ground water, both are polluted with toxic metals, pesticides and coliforms due to human activities like; disposal of domestic, municipal and industrial wastes and use of agriculture agrochemicals causing surface water contamination, etc. According to ‘drinking water quality survey’ Pakistan is ranked 80 among 122 nations. Arsenic contamination found in Punjab, Nitrate contamination in Balochistan, iron in KPK and higher turbidity values in Sindh. Pakistan is also facing acute water scarcity. Rapid Decline in the surface and ground water tables is occurring due to irrigation activities (tube wells) in agriculture.
Air pollution is a rapidly growing environmental problem in Pakistan. The problem is not new. In fact, the air quality index was recorded to be extremely bad just at the beginning of winter season. The emissions from industries, vehicles and thermal power plants are the main source of air pollution in Pakistan. In Islamabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi in 2001 the suspended particulate matter concentration were four to six times higher than there standard levels , the higher levels of these matters also recorded in 2003 in Faisalabad and Gujranwala and in Quetta 2006. Air pollutants like, Carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, ozone, poly-aromatic hydrocarbon, sulfur oxide, have been found in the air of Pakistan. Highly inefficient energy use, accelerated growth in vehicle number and vehicle kilometers traveled, increasing industrial activity without adequate air pollution control, and open burning of solid waste including plastic are some of the key factors for declining ambient air quality in Pakistan.
The geographical properties of Pakistan make it more vulnerable to climate change. Balochistan, low intensity Punjab areas and Sindh cotton wheat areas are more vulnerable to climate change. Climate change is primarily influenced by total stock of Greenhouse Gases in the atmosphere. The annual mean surface temperature has been consistently rising since long. There has been an increase in the monsoon rainfall in some areas. On the whole, the summer stretch has increased, and the intensity has also increased.
Pakistan spends 0.8% of its GDP on public healthcare and is ranked 154 out of 195 countries for quality and healthcare accessibility.
The reasons for communicable diseases in Pakistan are poor sanitation, unsafe drinking water, overcrowded cities, low health awareness, poor socioeconomic conditions and poor vaccination coverage. The rate of incidence of acute respiratory infections is 51%, Hepatitis 7.5%, malaria 16%, Diarrhea 15%, Dysentery 8% and scabies 7%.
The rate of non- communicable diseases in Pakistan is 20.5%. Diabetes, cancer, mental disorders, coronary heart diseases and cardiovascular problems are non-communicable diseases by which majority of Pakistani population suffers.
Environmental related disease
There are extremely complex and varied impacts on health due to environmental risk factors. In Pakistan most of the diseases reported are due to water pollution (directly or indirectly), as nearly 60% deaths in infants occur due to waterborne diseases. The cities such as Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Rawalpindi faces noise pollution which cause auditory and non-auditory effects, such as hearing loss and sleep disturbance health problems etc. In populated areas having traffic congestions, respiratory and vision problems are on a rise due to air pollution. Climate change due to environmental effect is also adversely affecting public health. Thousands of lives are lost due to severe drought and floods in different areas of country.
Three conclusions may be drawn from the discussion above.
- Environmental issues have been consistently increasing in Pakistan over many years. Successive governments have been paying lip service but did not do anything concrete. The entire forests in the country have been wiped out by timber mafia, and housing mafia. The poaching continues unabated. The public is bearing the brunt of these excesses. Strict laws and their implementation are urgently needed to avert a disaster in the making.
- Public health is another favorite area for politicians for paying lip service. There have been no concrete steps, only talks and more talks. Once in a while, there is effort to provide free medicines at the hospitals. While this may sound commendable, it does nothing to reduce the disease burden piling up due to wrong environmental practices and policies. Public health policies are needed to minimize the incidence of diseases over long term.
- Public awareness about environment is low and twisted. Public thinks it is some fancy topic discussed by some scholarly people which has no relevance to them. They are unable to relate to its impact on their daily lives and therefore do not take part in any environment protection activity. Public awareness needs to be created to make them an active stakeholder in preservation of environment.
Acknowledgement. Most material in this post is taken from the article published by Umama Izbel and Rabial Urooj, the link of which appears below.
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