Pollution trial

Editorial Board
Wednesday, Jun 07, 2023

The theme for this year’s World Environment Day was ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’. Needless to say, Pakistan has plenty of plastic pollution, along with every other kind of pollution imaginable. From the air we breathe, to the water we drink and the food we eat, the average Pakistani likely intakes far more toxins and pollutants than any healthy human being should. According to a report by the UNDP, more than 3.3 million tons of plastic is wasted every year in the country, with much of it ending up in landfills or strewn across land and water bodies. As this mismanaged plastic begins to degrade, it ends up poisoning our soil, food and water. According to reports, scientists have now detected microplastics in the human blood stream for the first time and are worried that they may cause damage to human cells. Meanwhile, air pollution is already estimated to kill up to 7 million people per year as per the WHO, with around 128,000 Pakistanis reportedly losing their lives due to air pollution and the health complications it creates every year. It is also important to understand the linkages between the different kinds of pollution we face. For example, a significant amount of the plastic we waste is burnt, which then contributes to air pollution. As a result, any programme that aims to tackle the latter will have to deal with the former as well.

It is clear that while pollution is certainly a threat that is making our country and planet less and less habitable on a cumulative basis, it is also a more immediate threat to human lives than most people realize. And while governments, including our own, and international bodies are pledging to do more about this issue, the powerful economic interests of major polluting industries and countries leave us to wonder whether it might all end up being too little too late. For instance, the first draft of an international treaty to combat plastic pollution is due to be completed by the end of November after recent talks between 175 nations at Unesco’s Paris headquarters. However, the aim is to finalize the treaty by 2024 and there has already been pushback from major plastic-producing countries. As is often the case with environmental treaties, the end product might not go far enough in confronting pollution and leave us all thinking that what little has been achieved ought to have been done years ago anyways. Then there is the issue of financing. While combating pollution is necessary for our well-being, the economics of the exercise often makes it seem like a luxury only rich nations can afford, at least in the short term. Poorer countries will undoubtedly have to be financially compensated for there to be any meaningful progress on this front.