Earth Day 2011 - Ardeshir Cowasjee - Sunday 24th April 2011

THIS past Friday came and went in the usual manner. The republic’s citizens were busy combating terrorism and extortion, surviving electricity and gas loadshedding, paying exorbitant prices for milk, sugar, wheat, dal, rice, onions and other essentials, fighting traffic jams and lack of transport, stressed by paucity of water, with many wondering where their next meal would come from.
Not many noticed that Friday was Earth Day. Some, associated with international or local NGOs, participated in varied awareness activities. Others may have seen a related programme on a foreign TV channel. But, by and large, this earth (we have no other!) will have realised that it may have to chug along at present without the support and encouragement of this Islamic Republic.
Earth Day was established in 1970 to stimulate awareness and appreciation for the earth’s natural environment. In 2009, the UN designated April 22 as International Mother Earth Day. Today, more than one billion people in 192 countries participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.
Now, it has been drummed into us again and again that the ultimate cause of the problems of this earth is environmental and two-fold: an exploding population and a rising standard of living leading to over-consumption of the finite resources of the planet.
The earth’s population exponentially increased from some five million in 10,000BC to 150 million in 1AD, to one billion in 1825AD, to 2.5 billion in 1950AD, to an astronomical seven billion in 2011AD. The burgeoning consumption of energy, raw materials, water, land, forests, fish and other resources, and the rising creation of pollution in the air, water and land are exceeding humanity’s ability to cope. Most of this earth’s degradation and pollution came about in the past 250 years, after the industrial revolution.
Recently, the Sindh Public Accounts Committee criticised the provincial government’s abandonment of its family planning programme. Aside from paying salaries to employees, no public education or motivation drives have been conducted for years. Do our leaders not realise the criticality of the population situation?
In the energy field, Dr Asim Hussain, owner of the excellent Ziauddin Hospitals, was reappointed on April 17 as federal adviser on petroleum and natural resources, a post from which he resigned one year ago for personal reasons.
The first day, in conjunction with the presidency (or prime ministerial mansion?), he decided to replace/reconstitute (while upholding ‘merit and transparency’) the heads and board members of oil/gas organisations, to take ‘strict measures’ to remove circular debt, to stop new non-domestic gas connections for the next six months (does this include the 4,000 gas schemes for the PM’s party colleagues that would boost the shortage by 10 per cent, as reported in the press last month?), and ‘revamp the sector’ to expand production and provide better service to all consumers.
Noble aims, indeed!
Two days later, he ordered the ‘regularisation,’ with 15-year backdated benefits, of the services of 302 PPP-tenure (1996) management trainees (not sacked employees) in OGDC. Plus ça change…
On April 9, the Sindh EPA conducted a public hearing on the environmental merits or demerits of a floating LNG terminal planned to be constructed by Engro-Vopak Terminal Ltd on reclaimed mangrove mud-flats four kilometres away from the Korangi Fish Harbour, adjacent to the Phitti Creek approach channel to Port Qasim. LNG carriers will sail up the channel, transfer frozen liquid natural gas to a berthed re-gasification vessel for subsequent injection into the SSGC gas-mains network.
In the past, this column has detailed the potential hazards of this process (freezing, asphyxiation, pool fires, radiation burns, etc) for nearby shipping, fishing vessels and human habitations. In addition to accidental spillage of LNG, the increasing attacks on critical installations by militants in Pakistan make LNG carriers a ‘soft target’ for terrorists. The cost of proper security measures and comprehensive insurance in urban areas will be prohibitive.
As provincial administrations around the country were unable to deal with the growing attacks on oil/gas installations, pipelines, grid-stations and transmission lines, senior members of the armed forces were called in last month for a meeting with the government’s movers and shakers to review how security measures could be enhanced.
Pakistan Gasport’s LNG terminal licensing process by Ogra has been delayed (for security reasons?). Now Engro-Vopak wants to do the same thing, and another five or six hopefuls are waiting on the sidelines. On the other hand, SSGC’s Mashal LNG terminal scheme (near Gasport’s and Engro-Vopak’s proposed sites) has been abandoned; the company is now investigating the feasibility of an offshore LNG terminal at sea, which includes a single-buoy mooring, and a de-gasification ship: an under-sea pipeline from the single-buoy will connect to the gas network on land.
Using the ‘precautionary principle’ of the 1992 Earth Summit’s Rio Declaration, as upheld in the 1994 landmark Shehla Zia judgment (PLD 1994 SC 693), environmental degradation and serious damage can be avoided in the case of LNG terminals by relocating them out at sea or to a location remote from shipping, fishing and human habitation.
President Asif Zardari was the federal environment minister in his wife’s government in the mid-1990s. He led our UN delegation to New York in September 2009, but due to ‘personal matters’ was unable to attend Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s environment summit for 100 heads of countries.
His then-adviser on petroleum affairs, Dr Asim Hussain, represented him. Both are therefore qualified to decide on matters environmental, including those concerning petroleum and natural resources issues. Perhaps they can act, in consultation with each other, to have the LNG terminals moved away to safer locations.

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