To reduce the intensity of a crisis, it is essential to produce some mechanism so that the crisis can be dealt with in a better way. The first tool that can be utilized against such a scenario is the governance model. The importance of governance can only be assimilated by looking at the plight of public institutions in Pakistan which are almost dysfunctional due to inefficiencies in their governance and management model.
The rising wave of environmental crisis in the form of climate-induced catastrophe, the rampant transmission of water-borne infections and air-borne diseases among masses, poor disposal of hazardous waste at the seashore, increasing level of water scarcity affecting the cross-provincial unity, and the current flash-floods of unprecedented intensity need immediate attention by the ruling authority. This can be only possible when there is a prioritization of the environmental governance model and possible removal of hiccups affecting its efficiency over a long period.
Understanding the environmental governance in Pakistan
By just looking at the current scenario of environmental governance in Pakistan, one would come across multiple challenges that are pushing the progression of the country into the absolute abyss. Having glanced at the current flood crisis, one would observe thousands of loop-holes and systematic flaws in the environment governance model ranging from the collusion of authorities to greasing of the palms of higher-ups for undertaking illegal projects flouting the clauses of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), use of sub-standard construction material for infrastructure development while the world is moving towards green-construction and sustainable architecture and deforestation of large green cover that can absorb excess rainwater and prevent flooding in northern areas.
These were the only concerns emanating from a single flood crisis induced due to prolonged neglect of climate issues in Pakistan; there is a multitude of others too affecting the environmental governance model of Pakistan and causing aggravation of the environmental management crisis.
Environmental governance can be defined as the smooth management of environmental issues by governing and regulating bodies in line with judicious decision-making by experts involved on board. The outcome of such decision-making should have positive trickle-down effects on the masses, especially in the conservation of their natural resources and protection of their lives during possible environmental calamities.
The major challenge concerning environmental governance is the poor demarcation of authority between different departments and agencies. This can be further elucidated by looking at the role of disaster management authorities whose sole task is the pre and post-management of disasters. However, one can only observe them issuing threat alerts only, which should be the work of the Pakistan meteorological department. Likewise, in the case of inundation of cities with water, only bureaucratic machinery is usually involved in the de-watering process, which should be the function of the local government department and public-health engineering department. This confused functioning of departments does not coalesce into producing solid performance, and the ultimate result is that a colossal public exchequer is wasted.
Read more: How can Pakistan avoid floods in the future
Another challenge staring in the face of its innocent people is Pakistan’s repeated romanticization of economic progression and growth rate without calculating the environmental cost of such a phenomenon. Unfortunately, it has still not focused on the economic benefits that can be accrued due to environmental sustainability. Since the inception of the country, every ruling party or leader had neglected the environmental dimension of economic decision-making whether it was Ayub khan’s rapid industrialization policy or PTI’s intense proclivity towards the establishment of the Ravi Urban Development Project, not realizing its devastating impact on the marine ecosystem and riverine communities.
Furthermore, the flouting of environmental laws by capitalistic forces is also a major challenge in the implementation of a robust environmental governance model. The daily grim stories of inhabitants crying for their land devoured due to illegal encroachment of gated housing societies, the conversion of wildlife parks into a concrete jungle with unbridled construction activity, the establishment of skyscrapers near seashores affecting biological diversity, and illegal construction of hill-resorts near flood-prone areas are quite enough to justify this conundrum.
It looks like the regulating agencies approve these activities under duress or get abundant resources to alter the coding laws. Whatever the case, the devastation will unravel its ugly face soon; one of these is what the country is facing right now in the form of flood devastation.
The critics point out that it is the absenteeism of environmental policy that is hampering environmental governance. However, this is not the case. The problem does not lie in the absenteeism of robust environmental policy rather it is the presence of impracticable policy not focusing on indigenous solutions. It needs to be comprehended that every country has its environmental concerns. Therefore, the policy should be personalized rather than a generalized one that looks mostly copy-pasted from the official websites of environmental ministries of other states.
Besides this, there is a lack of skilled human resources and decision-makers in various environmental agencies which severely impedes the efficaciousness of their work. The flouting of the right man for the right job is usually observed across the board. From Solid Waste Management Boards to Environmental Protection Agencies, one can find no MD or chairperson having an adequate background in environmental science or engineering or having some technical know-how of it.
The majority of them are either bureaucrats or civil engineers with very shallow knowledge of the environmental field. Even the provincial disaster management authorities are also not immune to it; they are filled with officers from the District Management Group or Provincial Management Services. This leaves a question mark on the entire governance structure where no expert with technical knowledge is treading the path of environmental sustainability.
The devastating effects of poor environmental governance in Pakistan would be more intense. First, the intense climate change deterioration will prove to be the original sin caused due to its repeated negligence by higher authorities as it will devour large swathes of the population, cause displacement of extreme proportion and shatter the normalcy of the world gained recently after the receding of COVID-19. Second, there are more chances of urban flooding. Till now, it has just wrecked the infrastructure. Next time, it will kill a multitude of people with its gushing water and amplified wave intensity.
Third, there will be the possibility of the emergence of insurgent elements in communities. Remember the book “The Vortex: A true story of History’s Deadliest Storm by Scott Gerney and Jason Mikilan in which the role of the cyclone of the 1970s in the Bay of Bengal in the Bangladesh Liberation Movement is mentioned. It is written explicitly in that book that overlooked by the West Pakistani authorities in managing the disaster increased the Bengali resentment which further fuelled the idea of separatism.
How can we manage such crises?
It should be also noted that the Naxalites in India are fighting for the protection of their natural reservoirs and resources fearing that they will be annexed by capitalistic forces in collaboration with state authorities. As the next era is the era of economic war where now war zones lie in the economic fronts. So, environmental governance would be the need of the hour for the protection of such resources and to minimize the resentment factor among the masses.
To improve the environmental governance model, it is necessary to reflect on the proper demarcation of working authority. The blurred lines should be erased and a clear mandate for each department with objectives should be devised. However, all the departments should work as an allied force synergizing all the efforts for better results rather than lurching unsuccessfully in isolation. There should be strong enforcement of environmental regulations. Those flouting it should be responsible for damages and reparations during the emergence of havoc. Any regulating agency supporting capitalistic agenda rather than keeping the national interest first should be simply disbanded.
The principle of the right man for the right job should be honored. The services of professional environmentalists, climatologists, disaster risk management specialists, and activists should be sought. All the untechnical bosses of environmental allied departments should be replaced by technical ones. Pakistan with its bulk youth population is the perfect place for utilizing its potential. A project worthy of environmental protection like the Billion Tree Tsunami can be executed without political support only with these energetic youngsters. To cut it short, it is high time to declare a climate emergency in Pakistan, especially after this devastating episode of floods in 2022. All the measures should be taken on a war footing and must be expedited for the greater benefit of the upcoming generation at least.
The writer is an environmentalist and an independent researcher. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.