Reclaiming Margalla streams

Riaz Missen

A 13-member Islamabad Environmental Commission was constituted by Islamabad High Court in early 2015 to investigate into the causes of pollution in the federal capital. After making field visits and listening to stakeholders, the Commission submitted its report in October the same year pointing out that deviation from Master Plan was the real source of trouble. According to Commission report major damage to the streams was done in Islamabad’s Zone III, area that runs along the Margallas. Top hill restaurants and housing societies are releasing waste water into streams that once used to host fish and provide clean drinking water to downstream communities.
Industrial area is also playing it own part in polluting streams to the extent that their water has become unfit even for the consumption of animals. That the capital city has no waste management system ultimately pollutes water other than air besides contaminating the soil. The Cabinet Division was quick to form an Implementation Committee by November 2015 taking the ministries of Climate Change and Capital and Administrative Division on-board. The first meeting of the Implementation Committee could occur after one year of its constitution. Why the matter of restoring Islamabad’s environment went un-attended for one long year, delay on the part of Implementation Comittee remains to be justified.
Pakistan Environment Protection Authority (Pak-EPA) will have to assume a centre stage as far implementing the recommendations of Islamabad Environmenal Commission are concerned. Of course it has powers to stop polluters from the nasty things they are doing with the environment. There is lot of institutions with expertise on environment, biodiversity and water reclamation. Why not to put available resources and expertise in use to make Islamabad streams clean, must be the question right in the mind of DG Pak-EPA while consulting scientists and researchers who have come to beleive that streams and rivers could be rehabilitated by using bio-remediation techniques to the extent that their waters could host fish.
Actually, National Institute of Bio-remediation of National Agriculture Research Centre (NARC) completed a model project almost a decade before, using indigenously available plants to reclaim the wastewater from its residential colony and the nearby Chak Shahzad. The project transformed a large swath of barren land into green fields. This project is not only answer to the woes of the federal capital but also the whole country. If constructing dams and building water reservoirs is that a tricky job, taking the case of Kalabagh, 200, 000 million gallons wastewater being released by households into waterways across Pakistan can be reclaimed to produce vegetable, fruit and fish for the consumption of growing population. Rs 1.4 billion being spent on waterborne diseases can be saved other than protecting aquatic life in waterways.
While decision-makers were so much obsessed with our strategic location and role in international balance of power, the most damage was done on environmental front. Trees were cut down from mountains and floodplains to grow more crops. Commercialisation in agricultural sector caused desertification of even deserts. Ecosystems is disturbed to the point that Pakistan needs a whole decade to restore it, that too, if it undertake this job by dedicating its whole institutional resources to this end. Soil, air and water stand contaminated due to ill-informed agricultural practices. Carefree use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers have infected our food chain with poison. No country wants to buy our wheat rotting in godowns and in open fields. Same is the case with fruit and vegetable. Health and economy both are in peril due to the damage inflicted on environment.
“There is no need for new legislation as [existing] laws are adequate and satisfactory” said the the report of the Commission headed by environment law expert Dr Pervez Hassan. If scientists believe that rehabilitating streams, the government should not lack in the will to make it possible. Meeting the goal of reclaiming Margalla streams needs a clear roadmap to restore Islamabad environment when the implementation committee on Environmental Commission meets this month. There is no dearth of data or expertise to reclaim wastewater, for Islamabad is that rich in research institutions but not the will to utilise them. There are more than 100 illegal housing societies operating in various zones of Islamabad. That the Capital Development Authority (CDA) is toothless and can’t take action beyond issuing notices for public consumption, is a forgone conclusion. The burden of action on environment rests with the elected mayor having taken its charge; it is about evolving consensus with stakeholders vis-a-vis rule of law.
— The writer is political analyst based in Islamabad.

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