29 October 2009

Some good news?

Below is a news report indicating the government may table legislation making it more expensive to import the raw-materials needed to make plastic bags. Apparently, it's part of anti-polythene bag legislation that's on the cards. I hope this happens. It would be good news. Taken from The News.

Law on degradable polythene bags shortly
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The government would shortly be framing laws to practise use of bio-degradable polythene bags with the Environment Ministry already working on a draft law.

The law framed by the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) will be soon sent to Law Division for presentation to the Cabinet for approval.

Introduction of degradable bags is still pending despite consensus reached between the industrialists and the Ministry around four months backs.

It was agreed between the Ministry and industrialists in mid May at a meeting chaired by Secretary Environment Kamran Lashari to start this project for averting environmental hazards caused by polythene bags.

But, certain departmental bottlenecks had delayed the early implementation and industrialists yet await a nod from the Commerce Ministry to import chemical for preparing degradable plastic bags.

Sources told APP that Commerce Ministry, despite request by the Environment Ministry did not include the duty drawback on import of a specific chemical, meant for preparing degradable polythene bags.

Though, it has been learnt that the Commerce Ministry had agreed to include this issue in next year’s (2010-2011) Trade Policy, yet it means delay of another year.

Used polythene bags are not only harmful for the environment and sewerage system but also for human health resulting in serious diseases.

As part of its efforts, the Environment Ministry had brought the producers to talking table and after agreeing to production of such bags, the producers had sought duty drawback on import of this specific chemical.

It was also agreed to introduce degradable polythene bags over the time by not affecting the working of industry and taking care of jobs of laborers attached to plastic bag industry.

Although, it was noted that production of bio-degradable plastic bags would raise the production cost by ten per cent, yet the industrialists had agreed to go for it.

The National Assembly had also passed a resolution two years back to ban polythene bags. But, it could not be implemented due to association of thousands families to this industry as banning abruptly could have deprived them of their livelihood. “For this, we are going to have proper legislation,” Director General Pak-EPA Asif Shuja Khan informed APP. “We neither want environmental degradation, nor desire industrialists to suffer and off load their employees,” he added.

Asif said, law will be given final shape soon and sent to Law division for vetting.

He said the initial draft of legislation was circulated among stakeholders and amendments are being made in it, in line with the suggestions and recommendations.

It has been found that polythene bags presently used do not degrade till thousands years and badly affect the environment.

Used bags were not only choking drains, but their burning in open by different civic departments, was also emitting harmful gases.

“The bags to be introduced after legislation, would degrade in minimum possible period,” Asif Shuja said.

He said number of experiments were conducted to produce a sample bio-degradable plastic bag and once practiced successfully, it will help improving environment and minimizing health hazards.

(from http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=205576)

23 October 2009

It's time for October's Critical Mass Event

Join Lahore's 11th Critical Mass Event at 10:15am this Sunday 25 October 2009 from the Fountain Square, Neela Gumbat, behind Bank Square on Mall Road, Lahore.

This Critical Mass cycling event will see us prowling the innards of Lahore where riding a bike offers the chance to sample more of Walled City life without picking a tab.

The thrum of the historic Walled City will lift your spirits as we catch the city-folks going about their morning ritual of Nashta.

Spinning via Anarkali Bazar we will enter the walled city from Lohari Gate and zigzag our way through the maze of Said Mitha, Paniwala Talab, Rang Mahal, Kashmiri Bazar, Chuna Mandi, Sheranwala Gate, and weave our way back from Fort Road, Red Light District, and Bhati Gate returning to Nila Gumbad via Lower Mall.

Critical Mass is about having clean cities that provide mobility and accessibility. Critical Mass is about clean transport. Critical Mass is about putting public good over private interest. Critical Mass is about making friends. Critical Mass is about reclaiming public space. Critical Mass is about showing a man or a woman on a cycle is the same as one in a ten lac car. Critical Mass is about democracy.

What do I need to participate in a Critical Mass Event?
All you need is a road-worthy cycle and an sense of fun. Buy, beg, borrow or steal a cycle if you have to, but join the Mass. Come, cycle around Lahore. Reclaim your city, and have more fun than you can imagine!

Where and how else do Critical Mass Events take place?
Critical Mass events are typically held on the last Friday of each month in over 250 cities all over the world. In Lahore, it is held on the last Sunday of every month. For information about October's Critical Mass Lahore, be at Fountain Square, Neela Gumbat, Lahore by 10:15am this Sunday 25 September 2009 or visit the Critical Mass Lahore Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=38992998526) or the Critical Mass Lahore blog.

Important: Be on time!!!

16 October 2009

The Kerry Lugar Distraction

The Kerry-Lugar Bill has become the black-hole of Pakistani political debate. Its din of conflicting rhetoric and opinion drowns out everything else. Even good sense. Sovereignty, which reference to any nearby encyclopedia will tell you, is a quality, possessed by a sovereign, of having supreme and complete control over a territory. In light of the KLB (it’s even got its own acronym), we seem to have gotten this concept mixed with ghairat. While all this is most amusing, it is no substitute for meaningful debate about the future of this country.

Too many others have offered their expert opinion on the new American administration’s attempt to change how and whom it funds in this Islamic Republic. It’s mildly surprising how so much of the debate has remained centered on the idea that Pakistan’s “sovereignty” (may Allah bless it and protect it with the Bomb) will be irrevocably tarnished. This is an old debate that has its antecedents in our characteristic dependency on the United States and paranoid concern of what others think of us. I’m surprised that the debate hasn’t moved beyond the hackneyed jingoism we’ve been forced to read and hear these past few weeks. I’m surprised that so little of the debate has dealt with the reality that it’s basically the folks whose names have been left off the payroll who are hopping mad at being passed over. But that just proves that KLB is a massive black-hole of political debate.

While the KLB debate goes on consuming all the air in the room, the real challenges this country faces remain unaddressed. We are a country of nearly 170 million mostly poor and illiterate people that is facing an energy crisis, a population explosion and potential water scarcity. Environmental degradation already costs the economy at least Rs. 1 billion a day and kills hundreds of thousands of us a year. And soon we will be forced to play one of the worst hands Nature has ever dealt man: Climate Change and the water scarcity, food shortages, population migrations, increased incidents of disease and natural disaster it will bring. To this equation, add the variables religious extremism, militancy and terrorism.

And here we are, with this KLB debate, talking of nothing but whether or not it is acceptable for Pakistan to be a beggar and a chooser. I would think that saner counsel (“get whatever you can get and be thankful”) would prevail.

In the next ten years, it is estimated that rural to urban migrations will transform our rustic rural people into an urban people. It’s estimated that, by 2050, as many as 65 percent of Pakistanis will live in cities. The failure of population stabilization policies means that, by then, there will be nearly 300 million Pakistanis. Three challenges immediately come to the fore.

First, where are you going to get the electricity? We’ve got a woefully inadequate installed capacity somewhere in excess of 20,000MW, nearly 25 percent of which is wasted in an efficient distribution and transmission system (a day ago, I read that, “because of forced closures, fuel shortages and some scheduled closures”, the PEPCO system is only generating 11,750MW). The Planning Commission estimates that, by 2030, Pakistan will need approximately 164,000MW of electricity to meet it demands. Of course, at the moment, such an amount seems impossible and if efforts don’t start now to increase installed capacity, improve line-losses and think up ways of jumping to a “smart grid”, the our ability to industrialize our economy will be compromised.

Second, will there be enough water? About 90 percent of our water resources are consumed in irrigation, yet unlined canals, water theft and out-dated farming practices mean that 40 percent of this is lost to inefficiency. The remaining 10 percent of our water resources are consumed as drinking water and for sanitation. Almost all of our water resources are from glacial melt. At Partition, our water resources stood in excess of 5,000 cubic meters per capita. Now, they are fast falling to less than 1,000 cubic meters per capita. The rate at which climate change is affecting glacial melt have surprised researchers, and it is predicted that, after accelerated melting (which means flooding and lots and lots of silt) our glacial water resources will be depleted. This is set to happen in the next 100 years.

Third, will there be enough food? Climate Change, outdated farming practices and depleting water resources will have an effect on food productivity. All of our cash crops are going to be affected by Climate Change. Of course, there will always be mitigation and adaptation, but even if food production can be maintained through science and discipline there is no telling the effect on rural economy and society. Certainly Climate Change will contribute to the great desire of people to move from the labor of subsistence farming to the potential offered by the cash economy of an urban area.

Parenthetically, let me again mention the proposal to lease hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of hectares of arable land to certain Arab is a bad idea that hasn’t been clearly thought out yet. Also, how come no one raises the question of sovereignty at the thought that our government was/is to negotiate the lease of such land under the guise of foreign investment? The Lahore High Court has done the right thing, while disposing of a petition filed before it by a farmers union, by requiring any such negotiation be brought to its notice.

An increase in the number of people in cities will put stress on the availability of housing, sanitation infrastructure, employment opportunities, healthcare facilities, educational institutions, transportation services and recreational space. All these are already stretched beyond capacity, but nobody involved in the windbag KLB debate seems to have an eye on what’s around the corner.

The three challenges highlighted above also overlap, in one way or another, with the role of the city. The centrality and importance of urban management in the future of Pakistan must not be underestimated. In the near future, the issues of housing, sanitation, employment, health, education and poverty will all primarily be urban issues. Even issues like energy can be regulated by the of size and manner in which our cities are run. The latest sustainable development initiatives are experimenting with "urban farming" to reduce emissions resulting from the transport of produce from the field onto the dinner-table. Urban areas produce disproportionately large quantities of the world’s green house gas emissions, and for sure Climate Change mitigation and adaptation strategies have huge urban components.

At the moment, our cities are managed by junior to mid-level bureaucrats acting on the instructions of provincial governments (though the City District Government of Karachi, it must be said, is the most independent) that have woefully little knowledge of what makes cities tick. At the moment, they are centers of sprawl, congestion and pollution with rapidly growing katchi abadis and slums. Yet, while these challenges seem insurmountable, they are, in fact, completely manageable. Enrique Penalosa, the charismatic former Mayor of the Colombian city of Bogota who transformed his city in only three years, told me once that the only thing we need to do to start is a vision of the type of city we want to live in.
Now wouldn’t that be a debate worth having?

12 October 2009

Pollution in the City

I took this photo on the Mian Mir Bridge while cycling home last night. You can clearly see the atmospheric brown cloud over the city. This is the air we breathe every day.
Posted by Picasa

06 October 2009

To places on two wheels

Most of Lahore isn't large or difficult to get around on a cycle. So, why can't we adopt it as our preferred mode of transport?

By Ahmad Rafay Alam

TNS (http://tiny.cc/Y4VrR)

When the editor of this newspaper commissioned me to write an article on 'how Lahore can be made cycle friendly', I thought that making a list of things that could be done was one way to go about it, but to convince everyone about the need to cycle would be more effective. Once the need for cycle-friendly cities is understood, the 'how' is merely procedural -- a means to an end.

To begin with, we have to understand that our cities, and especially Lahore, are polluted; and that if we don't do something to improve the air quality in our urban areas, we are, for sure, killing ourselves. Urban air quality deteriorates because of an excess of commercial and industrial activity. It also deteriorates because of a scandalously poor sewerage and sanitation system. But the air in our cities is also made poisonous by the emissions of the many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of private automobiles that congest city roads.

Incidentally, the increase in automobile usage has lots to do with the way our cities have been allowed to grow. Because of our insistence of living in detached bungalows, our cities have fallen victim of urban sprawl (the alternative is higher-density, low rise and environmentally-efficient habitats with dramatically smaller footprints). Massive urban footprints means an increase in commuting distances and commuting time. And, since none of our cities have invested in public transport, the only means of getting around is the automobile. Most "planned" housing schemes involve using a car to perform basic household chores like getting milk and eggs. Meanwhile, using an automobile is the most polluting thing any one of us does on a regular basis. No amount of forgetting to switch a light off at night or letting the tap run while you brush your teeth can compare to the fossil fuels burnt while driving from A to B in our increasingly congested and polluted cities.

Secondly, we must realize that mobility is a basic human right. Because we don't, our increasingly automobile dependant cities violate this right on a regular basis. Because our cities have become so large, and because there is no public transport, only people who can afford access to private automobiles have the advantage of mobility. Anyone who cannot afford a car simply can't compete with the "automobile elite" when it comes to getting around for things like work, entertainment, family and recreation. In Lahore, less than 15 percent of the population has access to a private automobile on a daily basis. In such circumstances, the fact that there's nothing by way of public transport means that, immediately, the elderly, the infirm and the female population of this and other cities are, effectively, rendered immobile and their right to mobility violated. With the potential of so many Pakistani's dampened by simply the fact that our cities are automobile dependent, the right to mobility is one of this country's least appreciated fundamental rights.

Thirdly, we must understand that automobile dependent cities and lifestyles are, in fact, incredibly unequal and undemocratic. The amount of money governments spends on the construction and maintenance of roads -- which are enjoyed predominantly by the automobile elite -- is grossly disproportionate to the needs of the majority poor. For example, for the budget year 2008-2009, the Government of Punjab allocated Rs 35 billion to health, public health and education. On the other hand, the singular allocation for roads and underpasses was Rs 45 billion. If anyone wants to understand why Pakistan has so many sick and illiterate children, it's because the money that should have gone towards better schools, better medical education, better salaries for public sector doctors and better healthcare facilities is being spent on only those people who have the means to access private automobiles. That's certainly not what I voted for.

Budget allocations are not the only thing that is unequal or undemocratic. The automobile also has a strange ability to distort perceptions. What else can account for our indifference to the suffering of children begging at red lights. Something happens to people in cars that stop them from having a human -- a humane -- reaction. Socially, if you don't have a car, it's assumed you don't count for anything. And it's not unusual to suggest that, on our roads, a person driving a car is treated differently from a man walking or cycling.

Parenthetically, note that it's always the "man" on the street and never the "woman": our urban experience is startlingly misogynist, a natural byproduct of having anti-public and anti-person urban planning, and also a reason moralists find it so easy to point a finger at something they call our "culture" when defending the segregation of women and their gradual exclusion from public places.

We may claim our elections are proof of our commitment to democracy, but anyone who looks at a city street can testify that our roads are evidence otherwise.

Fourthly, we must understand that our automobile dependent cities are also a massive burden on the economy. Fully 55 percent of the petroleum that's imported into this country (the oil import bill alone is in excess of US$ 6-7 billion) is consumed by the transport sector. At the same time, government is struggling to keep the economy from imploding. That's involved accepting oil "facilities" from the Saudi government which means, essentially, that we haven't the money to go on purchasing oil with dollars we can't come up with. More cycles mean less cars and less money spent on fueling them.

And lastly, we must realize that cycling is a solution to all the problems listed above. Cycle-friendly cities are less polluted, as fewer fossils fuels are burnt when people opt not to use cars. Cycle-friendly cities are often less congested with traffic as more cyclists can translate to fewer cars. Their roads are safer and more enjoyable for pedestrians. They are safer, more democratic and, as a bonus, cycling is also something that almost everyone can do. They provide mobility and allow people to exercise their right to get around. Cycle-friendly cities are also designed smaller and are, therefore, easier to get around. This is true of Lahore, and, as an avid cyclist, I'm witness to the fact that, at the moment, most of Lahore isn't very large or difficult to get around either. Given the city's automobile traffic, getting from A to B on a cycle usually isn't more than 20 minutes longer than the corresponding car ride.

My grandmother and her sisters used to cycle when they were in college in Lahore. My father often rented a cycle along with other friends when they went out at night. As a child, I enjoyed cycling around my neighborhood and beyond. But in a surprisingly short period of time, cycling has become a thing of the past. Enrique Penalose, the former Mayor of Bogota and the man responsible for making Bogota a pedestrian and cycle-friendly city in merely three years, once told me that the reason for such a change in social practice was simple: it was because of the our dependence on the automobile.

Making Lahore a cycle-friendly city is a statement about one's understanding of the environmental and urban planning issues facing the city. It's a statement about one's belief in equality and democracy. And it's statement of one's commitment to making Lahore a better, cleaner, safer place to live. If one wanted to make Lahore a cycling-friendly city, they'd be best advised that they could (i) introduce car-free days once a month; (ii) tax the usage of automobiles; (iii) increase parking fees for cars; (iv) invest in public transport; (iv) re-introduce cycle rentals; (v) officially promote cycling or any number of other initiatives. Or one could simply go out and get a cycle for themselves.

The writer is one of the many environmentally active Lahoris who organise Critical Mass Lahore. Critical Mass events take place in over 250 cities in the world. Lahore is Pakistan's first Critical Mass city. Last week, Islamabad hosted its first Critical Mass event. He can be contacted at ralam@nexlinx.net.pk

05 October 2009

Lahori generating 6,000 ton garbage daily

LAHORE - Illegal and dangerous practice of burning of solid waste is continuing unchecked in the City. It poses serious health hazards by causing considerable increase in the environmental pollution and the criminal activity on the part of sanitation staff and public at large, mostly scavengers, is also damaging the solid waste containers.

Usually scavengers, gardeners and addicts are held responsible for the unfortunate daily routine but Solid Waste Management (SWM) Department staff is also involved for across the metropolis and the dumping sites. City District Government, Environment Department and the sanitation officials are mere silent spectators, thus encouraging the practice with every passing day.

According to the insiders, the sanitation staff burns the garbage to reduce the quantity that is much higher than the lifting capacity of SWM, as Lahore, a City of around ten million people, produces over 6,000 ton of solid waste daily. As a result, more than 30 per cent waste remains unattended on the roads and SWM workers burn a large quantity to reduce the volume for easy transportation to the dumping sites. Lack of proper segregation and extraction of recyclable material before dumping, is prompting the scavengers and addicts to burn waste for collecting useful material. Almost every 2nd CDGL container is bearing burning scars.

District Officer SWM Mudassar Waheed Malik, however, denies his staff’s involvement. “I cannot appoint a person on each container. The community should come up and cooperate with the sanitation staff to discourage such an activity. Public should immediately inform the department about any such incident so that action could be taken against the culprits,” he replied.

He said new infrastructure was needed for meeting the requirement of a City like Lahore and promised that SWM complaint number, 139, would be written on every CDGL container. But ironically, the number cannot be dialled from mobile sets.

SWM introduced a master plan in 2007 based on Experience Report of Commission constituted by the Lahore High Court on scientific disposal of solid waste in collaboration with private sector, integrated with Master Plan of Lahore 2021 (NESPAK) and SWM bylaws. The main objective of the plan is zero waste society that includes 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

In this regard, Deputy Director SWM Rafique Jatoi says some strategies of the plan were being adopted like performance based wages to SWM workers that has resulted into 100 per cent lifting of garbage. About the burning of waste, he pointed to the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) that lacks waste lifting system, saying it burns the leaves or throw the garbage in CDGL containers.

The SWM is not as much under-resourced as they complain. Increasing the trips of the collection vehicles can enhance the collection, storage and lifting capacity. The containers are left filled for long time, resulting in the over filling and then burning of the waste.

DDO Environment Muhammad Younas says there is a culture of laziness among the government employees and a private firm will perform much better with the available resources. The Environmental Department is very concerned over the practice because it is hazardous not only for the environment also the humans.

He further informed that issues regarding waste burning on dumping sites like Mahmood Booti are also in court, and the Environmental Department is in liaison with the SWM to curb the routine. But there is hardly any change visible.

An integrated effort by the departments concerned to create awareness through media is needed to meet the future challenges because with rising urbanisation and change in lifestyle and eating habits, the amount of municipal solid waste is increasing rapidly and its composition is changing as well. Non-biodegradable waste requires scientific processes for its disposal. However, by developing the recycling industry, the solid waste can be turned into ‘solid wealth’.

by Ayaz Mahmood Khan in The Nation, 5 October 2009 ( http://tiny.cc/GRcfi)