03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Environmental mayhem in Pakistan

Environmental degradation has taken a turn for the worse, especially in developing countries. Despite the growing popularity of global environmental consciousness, these countries -- constituting more than two-thirds of world population and geographical area -- are suffering badly due to lack of governmental and international support. International support is linked with the eagerness of local governments to implement environmental plans, and this trait is almost nonexistent among the high-ups of these countries.

Pakistan is one of the worst-affected countries by environmental pollution along with other countries of South Asia, including India. As there is a massive growth of population and lack of health facilities and civic infrastructure, Pakistanis have seen a massive uptick in pollution and deterioration of natural resources. The country has limited area covered under forests (4.9%, according to some estimates), and a majority of the population does not have any access to clean drinking water.

Although Pakistan is not as industrialized as India or China, the relatively industrial cities of Karachi, Lahore, and Faisalabad don't have any water treatment plants or means to treat the effluents, except for a few treatment plants in Karachi that have only recently started their operations. Most of industrial wastes are discharged into rivers and lakes and poisonous vapors make their way into the atmosphere. Most urban slums are located within close vicinity of industrial units and use this contaminated water. Air pollution is a bigger issue, as it mixes with the air and taken to every part of the city.

Karachi tops the charts when it comes to air pollution, followed by other cities of Pakistan. Conditions are so bad in some areas that people have developed serious respiratory problems but are unable to move to safer locations due to poverty and lack of housing units. As more than two-thirds of Pakistan's population lives without a sewage system (this includes areas of Karachi, a bustling metropolis of 15 million people), water-borne diseases are a common feature with significant fatality rate. World Health Organization reports that 25%-30% of all hospital admissions in Pakistan are related to water-borne diseases while 60% of infant deaths are because of water contamination.

As for the state of education in Pakistan, the lesser said the better. With a literacy rate of around 54% and an education spending of just 2.3% of total GDP, conditions are expected to remain the same. Health budget is a shameful 0.7% of GDP while the major chunk of money goes into defense expenditures. I have not mentioned the budget allocated for environment, as it is not even in decimal fractions of GDP.

While these statistics look similar to many countries in Africa, other Asian countries are getting their act together. They now spend a sizable amount on health and education, and, by the way, a massive spending on these sectors is necessary to achieve the Millennium Development Goals as envisioned by the United Nations.

As if poor spending on health, environment and education was not enough, there are practically no regulations for industries to observe environmental safety laws. There are, of course, some laws related to environmental pollution but they are hardly implemented in real. Thanks to corrupt administration, any industrialist can have his way by bribing the related agencies and police authorities. Deforestation of already meager forest resources continues and the recent military offensive further accentuate these problems.

So what would become of Pakistan and its environmental mayhem? Unfortunately, the future looks bleak as the government is not concerned about it and international environmental agencies are unable to work efficiently in the challenging conditions of Pakistan. There are of course some local organizations working in this regard, but they always remain stripped of cash and technical assistance to improve their working procedures. It's another tragedy in the making.