Mohammad Naeem Qureshi is the most prominent and skilled name of environment sector in Pakistan. Currently, he is serving as the editor Energy Update magazine and President National Forum for Environment. He is an experienced managing editor with a demonstrated history of working in the oil and energy industry, renewable energy, advocacy in climate change and corporate social responsibility. Here are some excerpts of his recent talk with Muhammad Abdullah Khan, an active team member of Scientia magazine for our special environment edition. He briefly talked on his efforts for bringing environmental awareness in Pakistan.
What according to you is the biggest environmental threat today?
In my own assessment, the constant and unchecked usage of polythene bags in Pakistan poses a serious threat to the environment. This menace should be curbed at the earliest. All the measures brought about in the past to counter this problem remained unsuccessful. Take for instance the recent announcement of Sindh cabinet, a few months back to ban the use of polythene bags in Sukkur district. The Sukkur city supposed to become the first district in Sindh to implement the decision of the provincial government to ban the use of polythene bags. Later on, the ban planned to be extended to other districts of the province as well.
Meanwhile, in the last session of Sindh Assembly, Sindh Environment Minister while speaking in the question hour, conceded that no progress has made in implementing the decision of Sindh cabinet to ban the use of polythene bags in Sukkur in the first phase. He said that paper bags should not replace the polythene bags as consumption of paper bags will encourage tree cutting as instead shopping bags made of bio-degradable plastic should be introduced as an alternative which is also very suitable for the environment.
How can it be overcome?
All the concerned stakeholders should come together to discourage and disallow the use of polythene bags. A concerted strategy should be implemented to reduce or ban altogether use of polythene bags. The provincial governments, to which the subject of Environment has devolved after the 18th Constitutional Amendment, alone could not tackle this problem. The provincial environmental watchdog, civil society police, district and divisional administration, municipal organizations, local government representatives, legislators of the area, should all be collectively involved in this effort.
The provincial assemblies should pass proper legislation in this regard. Under the provincial environmental rules and regulation, an effective ban could be implemented with the coordination of local communities and civil society. In this regard, a proper campaign should conduct to raise awareness among masses and all the concerned quarters in the society including shopkeepers and traders should make aware of the environmental hazards caused due to constant use of polythene bags. Apart from the police and district administration, the provincial environmental protection agencies should prepare a proper law-enforcement mechanism to introduce and implement this ban in a gradual manner. Such a system should contain the provision of a penal system to punish those who violate this ban.
What inspired you to become an environmentalist?
As we always used to say every challenge, every opportunity contains within it the seeds of opportunity and growth. The large scale environmental degradation in urban areas of Pakistan highly motivated me to work for this cause. I thought that the government and relevant state agencies alone could not tackle this issue. The concerned civil society should come forward to extend a helping hand towards the government instead of criticizing only. The like-minded forces in civil society should adopt a proactive approach to safeguard the environment. With this background and philosophy in mind, I used whatever resources I had at my disposal to do an organizational effort though in the non- governmental sector to safeguard the environment. And from the date of inception of my efforts, I was encouraged by my friends, family, government authorities, fellow civil society activists, the regulator, as that enabled me to continue my efforts to save the environment.
How far can technology help save the situation?
As far as our concern is Pakistan, a lot of efforts are required to extensively use the technology for the conservation of the environment. The current situation is so dismal that the provincial environmental watchdogs even lack the equipment and technology to monitor air quality to check the level of pollutants in our environment. In the modern era when information technology and digital media is extensively using in society, with the effective support of Government, startups those mainly focus on environmental safeguards could launch.
It should provide exclusive financial assistance for the purpose. With smart cellular phones are extensively using in society, special phones applications should develop and launch to make people aware of air quality and the extent of the damage being done to the ambient environment. With the advent of modern telecommunication and related technologies, the government is not required to seek any special assistance package from any of the foreign donor agencies, as the establishment of endowment funds let’s say by the Ministry of Climate Change could do wonders in this regard. Such an endowment fund to support the use of technology to safeguard the environment should be a permanent feature as proper legislation should adopt to formalize it so that the change in government should not disturb or reverse such arrangements.
What do you think a layman can do to help the environment?
I think a common citizen at least can make sure that the domestic waste generated by household should be properly disposed of. The citizens should make sure that the domestic waste does not add towards the menace of unattended municipal garbage that seen in almost every locality. Everyone should take care that the household should not cause littering or overflow of sewerage or potable water in the street or road outside their homes. In such a manner, they will contribute a lot towards safeguarding the environment. The cleanliness is a key to saving our environment and to prevent the outbreak of many infectious diseases especially among the children.
Why would you ask a student to join the environmental sector?
If a student decides to join a movement, which supports environmental activism then in such a manner he/she is trained and sensitized from the early phase of his/her life to works for the cause of environmental protection. This will be a great way to make the future generation aware of the importance of the environment in our lives.
What future do you see for environmentalists?
Hopefully, with the advancement of the economy and development activities getting accelerated in the country, environmentalists will have to play an important role to regulate all such activities so that they should not cause harm to our environment. With infrastructure development in full swing and many development projects being implemented as part of the CPEC, hopefully, there will be several job opportunities for the environmentalists all across the country in the future. Consequently, the presence of environmentalists is necessary to make sure that the developmental activities should conform to the national and provincial environmental laws. In this regard, the provincial environmental watchdog will increase the employment of environmentalists to effectively monitor the phenomenon of environmental degradation.
What are some of the environmental projects you have taken up?
We have been engaged in an extensive tree plantation campaign in Karachi for the last many years, which conducted with the support of the provincial government, its relevant agencies, and like-minded non-governmental organizations. We have been active partners in the initiative of both the federal and provincial governments to promote greenery and urban forestry in the country. We have been an active supporter and partner in the Clean and Green Pakistan initiative of the federal government, which aims to plant 10 billion trees in the next five years. We have taken part in a number of tree plantation activities as well. We extensively do tree plantation campaigns in the city with the support of the office of Commissioner Karachi, Sindh Forest Department, Environment Department and other government agencies every year during spring and rainy season. In this regard, we lend extensive support to many relevant NGOs and other institutions willing to take part in the tree plantation campaign in the city and other areas of Pakistan.
Apart from this, we have been organizing an annual summit on the environment with regularity for the last several years. We organized seminars, symposia, workshops, and moots on every occasion, which relates to the environment like World Environment, Earth Day, and Earth Hour, etc. Our teams actively participate in almost every public hearing organized by the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency regarding any upcoming mega development and construction project in the province.
Do you think the government is doing enough to deal with such issues?
No, in fact, a lot has to be done in this regard as the mere establishment of the Ministry of Climate Change, provincial Environment departments, and environmental watchdogs are not enough. The environmental degradation is getting worsened with each day passing while there is no measure in place to reverse it.
In one statement, what message do you have to the coming generation?
The new generation should be vigilant for the environment protection which relates to their own health and safety and of their loved ones.
Muhammad Abdullah Khan has done bachelors in Chemistry from Government College University
Lahore. He is a science enthusiast and loves to read and write about astronomy, cosmology and latest