The World Environment Day (WED) is celebrated every year on June 5 to raise mass-scale awareness for conservation of the planet taking initiatives for positive environmental action to protect nature from human-led activities. It is led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), where this day was first celebrated in 1973, to protect biodiversity, ecosystems and curb emissions to adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change and global warming.
This year’s theme was ‘Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care’, which stresses the need to promote responsible use of natural resources and fight over-consumption and food wastage. Today, an increase in the world’s population has exerted tremendous pressure on natural resources, where humanity’s demand on the planet is 50 per cent more than what nature can renew, meaning it will take 1.5 Earths to produce the resources necessary to support our current ecological footprint.
Another issue that must be highlighted is the increasing degradation and depletion of water supplies of Lahore. According to an estimate, the population of Lahore is expected to increase to approximately 22 million by 2025, out of which 84 per cent is expected to live in urban areas, exacerbating water scarcity. One of the major risks is an increase in groundwater extraction for domestic, industrial, commercial and agricultural, which is rapidly exhausting the groundwater supply of the city. Even annual rainfall, an average of 715 mm, does not significantly contribute to recharge the aquifer as groundwater discharge is much higher. According to Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General, WWF-Pakistan, “Pakistan is facing serious water challenges where we are not only polluting and depleting the groundwater but also extensively contaminating the Ravi River. There is an urgent need for the private and public sector as well as citizens of Lahore to take immediate actions to reverse this trend before it’s too late.”
Industrial pollution is undoubtedly another significant threat to groundwater resources of the city, as many water-intensive industries use the resource, extensively and discharge their effluents into drains without proper treatment, directly flowing into Ravi River. Many of these industrial sectors are water intensive, especially textile processing, tanneries and paper and pulp and do not adhere to the guidelines of the Environment Protection Department (EPD) of the government of Punjab, due to poor enforcement. We must not ignore that the Ravi River serves as a lifeline for Lahore’s groundwater and contributes up to 82 per cent to the renewal of groundwater resources. Unfortunately, it is now the most polluted river as the presence of metallic components in it is seriously damaging aquatic life. Also, the river’s water is used for vegetable cultivation which is deteriorating the quality of the produce. One can say that the Ravi River has turned into a naalaas all untreated municipal, industrial and agricultural waste is disposed into the river thus harming the ecosystem. Unregulated drainage systems have also affected the quality of groundwater and higher arsenic content in it are thus affecting its quality. However, experts regard air pollution by kiln factories as the main source of arsenic content in underground water.
There needs to be a municipal water act, water-right law and recharge policy which can discourage over-consumption and ensure sustainable use of the resources. If we keep on extracting groundwater, the water table will further decrease which means that WASA will need more power (electricity) to extract it, thus causing electricity bills of the water authority to further increase, which can be a burden on the provincial budget.
We often fail to think about the conditions of people in rural areas, which are known to be difficult and deplorable. Pakistan is a water stressed country and our leaders must accept the fact and take immediate steps on far-footing grounds to deal with the worsening water conditions. If they fail to provide this basic necessity and right, they no longer deserve to stay in power.
Without understanding the consequences, we continue to excessively pump groundwater, as according to an estimate, the current average water level is 40 m which will drop by 70 m by the year 2025 and further to a 100 m or more by 2040, if the situation is not controlled. This will even affect businesses as their pre-treatment costs will increase and in certain cases industries may have to relocate to areas where the water quality is adequate. This city is in constant danger of health, environmental risks, and ecosystem challenges due to untreated domestic and industrial effluents.
The only solution to control the ongoing situation is to promote sustainable use of water and consume it with care. The government can ensure this by banning boreholes and dug wells, defining limits of water withdrawal and imposing groundwater extraction fees, which will discourage wasteful consumption. Groundwater can also be recharged through rainwater harvesting, an indigenous idea we continue to ignore but which is promoted by western countries. Each year, the abundance of water the city receives during the monsoon season is wasted as it flows away into drainage and sewerage pipes. The government can make it mandatory for new housing colonies to implement rainwater harvesting techniques into their plans, which can help in restoring the groundwater level.
Today one of our most precious resources is at risk and we need to understand its implications, as we cannot survive without it. World Environment Day is an effort being made for the well-being of humanity and showing that the environment and economies completely depend on the responsible management of Earth’s resources. This year’s theme rightfully enables us to dream about the future we want, where the force of 7 billion people and collective action afterwards can translate into an exponential impact. So let’s dream to make Pakistan a country where sustainability is a way of life. Let’s make Pakistan a country where resources are not wasted, where only that much food is brought which one can eat and where renewable energy is considered the first and last option. So let’s dream and make an effort to help build a country where humans live in harmony with nature.