VIEW: Development is not about trees —Eram Aftab - Monday, May 02, 2011

Source :\05\02\story_2-5-2011_pg3_3

How does one change the development paradigm? One has to change the way one plans and executes projects — the way we think about the benefits of a project. The important factor is to integrate multiple benefits within the project design to achieve a project that will be sustainable

Pakistan is a country that has yet to implement its laws and policy on environment effectively. Of course some will state that these are not the only laws that we need to worry about, let me point out my friend that if the terrorists and the suicide bombers do not kill us, the environmental pollution in this country will, so let us salvage that for our future at least. What is environment? For now, it should suffice to say that it includes both natural and built or manmade environment.

Coming back to our point of discussion, the importance of these laws, policies and the environmental instruments created to implement them is lost on department officials that have to ensure its implementation. Take the case of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report. Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997 Section 12 explicitly lays down the law that projects will carry out an initial environmental examination (IEE) and subsequently an EIA if required. Regulatory framework for implementation of this law exists, yet the government departments/agencies themselves try to execute projects without conducting an EIA.

The EIA is treated as a hurdle that hinders development, whereas, if applied, it would steer us towards developing a vision for the new millennium — a vision resulting in sustainable development projects and sustainable cities. The EIA has to be undertaken at the planning stage to identify the project’s affects. Its aim is to assess the impacts of the project for rational decision making in the overall project planning. EIA in Pakistan is the most misunderstood management tool despite its extreme importance in developmental planning. The government itself is oblivious to the importance of the EIA in its decision making process.

Take, for instance, the issue of traffic congestion facing many of our cities. No holistic planning is undertaken to address the issue. Each road corridor is taken in isolation of the overall road transport planning. A good example is traffic congestion in Lahore on two roads — Kalma Chowk and Canal Road — that have seen the government pushing forward to execute these projects, although congestion on these roads stems from the lack of development on other secondary and tertiary road networks. Strangely, congestion in other parts of the city is considered less crucial. The EIA conducted for these projects (undertaken after the decisions to execute the projects) failed to acknowledge these blatantly obvious issues. Despite this, the basic EIA report reveals the shortcomings of the projects and this is why its importance as a sustainability tool cannot be undermined.

The objective of introducing EIA into developmental planning was to develop a tool for sustainable development. The new paradigm shift of understanding the negative affects of past development and mismanagement came not only due to high levels of pollutants in the air, water, soil poisoning our natural resources but also due to land use changes. The ill planned land use resulted in the loss of the eco-services, i.e. the natural systems that protected the earth.

The first criteria indicators of environmental degradation that will impact our lives are the natural elements around us. These indicators directly show a decline of the earth’s natural conditions required for human survival. The unchecked depletion and pollution of the earth’s natural resources and factors such as colossal population growth, increasing production and consumption patterns with consequential waste generation have shown disastrous consequences. Therefore, it is important to understand that environmental protection is not needed for the survival of the earth; we need this for our own survival.

The importance of the ecological services for human wellbeing came into play when the loss of these services started directly affecting social and economic well being of mankind. Therefore, setting new paradigms for development for the survival of the human race is imperative. How does one change the development paradigm? One has to change the way one plans and executes projects — the way we think about the benefits of a project. The important factor is to integrate multiple benefits within the project design to achieve a project that will be sustainable. EIA as a tool looks at all aspects of the project — economic, social and environmental — the triple bottom line as it is called. These are the three main criteria for assessing development today.

How do we even begin to understand why a society and a government that is willing to dole out charity to its masses, is not willing to plan and develop the country for the teeming millions that we so regularly give out charity to. Giving out charity is not the role of the government, but providing structured development to achieve social and economic sustainability with a vision is.

Pakistan is faced with extreme environmental stress. Even the current energy catastrophe is a direct result of Pakistan’s poor development planning. Our cities that could supplement their energy needs from waste-to-energy technique await some miracles that the federal government will perform to remove this shortage. A city like Geneva, which has far less waste generation than us, produces 16 percent of its energy needs from its solid waste, so why can we not generate electricity to supplement the energy needs of each city with our waste, ridding our streets, drains, waters courses and open dumps of garbage. Lahore alone produces over 6,000 tons of solid waste, Karachi more than 10,000 tons. This amounts to energy just being thrown away instead of being utilised. This is causing pollution, when it could be turned into an alternative energy source. This is all due to lack of planning, lack of understanding how simple sustainable development can be. It is in here that the laws of EIA can be expanded and applied not only on project-to-project basis but in a more strategic manner through Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), addressing our developmental problems in a holistic manner.

A review of our developmental objectives at both micro and macro level shows the imperative need to reassess public development projects and ensure implementation of environmental assessments. The sustainability of a country’s developmental objectives correlate directly to its ability to the success of its policies.

When we talk of governmental responsibility we cannot forget our own responsibility as citizens, as business and industrial entities. We need to participate in improving and working towards sustainable development objectives. We need to decrease the burden we are placing on our land. This is the earth we need to protect for ourselves and our future generations.

The writer is an environment and development planning consultant. She can be reached at

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