In lahore’s largest Christian community area, Youhanabad, grave and widespread environmental problems exist due to the government negligence. Solid urban and industrial waste is being dumped in several parts of the locality in utter disregard of municipal laws, its wastewater drainage system is poorly managed and its sewage drains often overflow into its residential areas. Its mostly poor residents, who lack awareness about environment and also do not have socio-economic resources to fix their problems, are grappling with worsening air, soil, and water pollution that is causing a surge in skin and stomach diseases in the locality. The situation, they say, worsens during rains when toxic industrial waste joins domestic sewage to overflow through the local streets.
Saima William, who heads Climate Action Program at the Center for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPIDI), an Islamabad-based advocacy organization, believes that the industrial waste is exposing Youhanabad’s children to grave medical risks. “This waste is entering local and the gases emitted by it are poisoning local air,” she says.
When consumed by human beings, she says, the water mixed with industrial waste poses serious threats to the health of the local community, especially local children, she says. The emission of pollutants, including particulate matter and harmful gases, from this waste is exposing local children to respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and respiratory infections, she says. More worryingly, she says, exposure to industrial pollutants can delay the mental development of local children, impair their cognitive abilities, produce behavioral issues among them and, thereby, affect their overall well-being and educational prospects. ”The carcinogenic nature of certain industrial pollutants increases the risk of cancer among the residents of the locality, including women and children, because prolonged exposure to these substances could lead to a higher incidence of cancer,” she observes.
William says the low socio-economic status of Youhanabad’s residents means that they could easily fall prey to the medical problems associated with environmental problems their area is suffering from because they cannot afford to buy and use air and water filters. “Their limited access to healthcare facilities is further compounding the impact of this pollution, especially upon children.
On the flip side, she points out, the increasing incidence of diseases among local residents is putting an an additional economic burden on their already meager financial resources. “Increased healthcare costs and potential loss of income due to medical problems contribute to a cycle of poverty, further marginalizing this vulnerable community,” she adds.
William believes that the solution to these problems is mainly the government’s responsibility. “It should enforce laws governing the dumping of waste strictly, monitor the dumped waste regularly to record the pollutants its might be emitting and run targeted environmental awareness programs for the local community,” she says. She also stresses the need for a “collaboration between industries, governmental bodies and local community leaders to ensure that these measures produce their desired impacts.
Naeem Dean, an educationist based in Lahore, is also worried about the dangerous situation faced by school going children in Youhanabad. There are almost 150 schools in the locality where approximately 15,000 children study. “These students not only face the risk of accidents due to sewage-filled roads, they also contend with infections when exposed to toxic materials present in the sewage,” he says.
Dr Muhammad Ashraf Nizami, a Lahore-based medical practitioner and the president of Pakistan Medical Association’s local chapter, , on the other hand believes, that the main problem is to allow the building of residential areas near water streams and industries but he is also aware of the fact that impoverished households often choose to live in these areas due to affordability. Consequently, he says, numerous residential societies have been built near environmentally hazardous areas. He, therefore suggests that public health department should discourage residential development near canals and factories because this proximity can have severe implications for the residents,” he says.
If and when residential neighborhoods get build up in these areas, he recommends that the state should then develop climate-friendly infrastructure there, preventing the contamination of local air and water.
Otherwise, he warns, the residents of these areas will remain vulnerable to serious health repercussions, including skin and stomach disease
Tariq Javed Tariq, a local politician in Lahore, also highlights the perilous implications for Lahore’s expansion to its ecological balance and the health of its citizens. He urges the government to take serious note of the environmental problems in Youhanabad and take proactive measures to address them.