Sumaira Gul of Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan Memorial Trust – a non-profit organisation (NGO) working on sanitation and solid waste management – remembers municipality trucks dumping trash in a rainwater-fed natural stream, Lai Nullah, flowing through Dhok Hassu, a slum of Rawalpindi.
“When villages turn into city slums, their sanitation challenges compound. There are no municipal services, including the facility of gas, clean drinking water or paved streets. Our plight motivated me to become an environmental activist,” she said while addressing a national conference titled “Only One Earth” in Islamabad on Tuesday.
The conference was held under the auspices of humanitarian and development organisation Pak Mission Society (PMS) to mark the World Environment Day for sustainable solutions to climate change.
“In our country of 220.9 million, every household produces half a kilogramme of waste on a daily basis. However, there are no separate bins to separate solid and liquid waste collected, transported and dumped while ignoring international practices. Even the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and other government departments concerned do not cater to all zones of the designated sectors,” said Sumaira.
Last month, Rawalpindi District Health Department detected dengue larvae in Dhok Hassu, Rawal Town, and other slums along the banks of Lai Nullah. Health concerns are common in these slums, home to migrated communities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) preferring affordable house rents.
Echoing the theme of this year’s World Environment Day, other speakers also stressed the need to bring change through policies and choices to live in harmony with nature in a sustainable way as they gathered in the presence of around 300 others at a critical juncture, with the country facing the threats of a climate crisis, rampant pollution, heat waves and water shortage.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) just last week warned of yet another heatwave in the coming days, saying hot and dry weather continue would grip most parts of the country with record-breaking temperatures in Islamabad, Punjab, KP, Azad Kashmir, Sindh and eastern Balochistan.
At least three children have so far died because of severe heat in the Kaccho region of Sindh, while temperatures in Larkana and its peripheries have been recorded at a high of 50 degrees Celsius.
Despite soaring temperatures across Pakistan, climate education is ignored in school curriculums, said Ameera Adil, the executive director of Clim-8 – an Islamabad-based organisation working for the promotion of environmental education and awareness.
“There is a very low focus on environment and climate change in the single national curriculum. Even during my Masters in development studies on climate change, I have struggled to find teachers who could guide me. There is no specific degree in climate change in Pakistan,” she told the gathering.
In 2017, Pak Mission Society added “climate action” as its thematic area to pursue climate adaptation and resilience objectives by introducing innovative solutions to handle municipal waste in low to middle-income households.
PMS Chairman Dr Samson Griffin said climate change represents an imminent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies, future generations, and the planet.
“If we don’t act now, all resources we get from Earth will be exhausted. We must ensure a lean and healthy planet for our future generations,” he added.
But co-founder and chief operating officer of Saaf Suthra Sheher Pvt Ltd and Pappu Recycles, Mehrunisa Malik, believes the biggest challenge we face is changing our mindset.
“Nobody wants to separate their waste or even talk about it. Culturally, we don’t take responsibility for our waste,” she said, urging the masses to remember that we only have one earth.
The event, attended by national ministerial leadership, United Nations (UN) delegates and leading members of the civil society and humanitarian organisations, CSRs, corporate and business community and academia besides journalists and climate change activists, concluded with a joint resolution wherein the participants agreed that all government, as well as other local stakeholders, would design and implement plans aimed at achieving 60 percent clean energy by 2030.
It was also decided that efforts would be made to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and use of coal for energy, reduce other fossil fuel consumption, adopt environment-friendly renewable energy measures for all, repeal laws and policies that obstruct energy efficiency and renewable energy use while working to ensure that environmental and social impacts of such measures are effectively and equitably managed.
The resolution stressed the need for best practices of waste management which involve collecting, sorting, treating, recycling through a nationwide government-led campaign and promoting public-private partnerships.
It also called for a climate inclusive curricula for all educational institutions to prepare future generations for climate adversities and viable solutions, transparency in how climate funds received by the country trickle down to the most vulnerable frontline communities, reduction in deforestation and promotion of forestation, working with the corporate sector for climate-friendly actions besides supporting civil society in addressing climate change and mobilising communities to incorporate climate action in all humanitarian and development projects.