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The Killid Group
Environmental pollution: anyone care?Written by
Sunday, 06 June 2010 10:04
By M. Reza Gulkohi
Our current environment situation is akin to the problems faced by other underdeveloped countries. But Afghans lack awareness about this and the government has also not given this its due importance, say experts. Diseases provoked by pollution grow, affecting mainly children.
When Mohammad Saeed returned to Afghanistan after living abroad for several years, he found it difficult to breathe normally. The thick pall of pollution that hangs over Kabul forced him to wear a face mask. Saeed is now acclimatized to the Kabul pollution, but the dangers to the health of the 25-year old have not lessened. "In the early morning, when I take a look outside my home, the air is visibly thick with polluted gases and dust. I think the situation worsens during the day" he says. Saeed feels residents of his city will suffer the consequences of this air pollution to their health, but that they have no alternative except to tolerate the situation.
Though pollution and an unhealthy environment are widespread phenomenon in Afghanistan, they are more acute in urban centers and cities, especially the capital city which has seen a population implosion since 2001.
"According to the master plan of Kabul city, Kabul is expected to have a population of only 2 million. But now there are 5 million people in Kabul," says Mr. Nesar Ahmad Habibi Qori, Head of the Department of Sanitation in Kabul Municipality. The increasing population has led to illegal constructions, the misuse of green areas for building, scarcity of drinking water, and pollution of the water of Kabul River which has sewage dumped into it. All these have combined into a complex problem that presents a big challenge to the Kabul Municipality, he states.
Experts believe that if serious and effective measures are not taken to prevent environment pollution, residents of Kabul will face many serious health problems and diseases. "Our current environment situation is akin to the problems faced by other underdeveloped countries. But Afghans lack awareness about this and the government has also not given this its due importance," says Mr. Mohammad Waseq Husseini, a lecturer in Kabul University.
Mr. Mohammad Zahir, a 48-year old resident of Kabul has had to undergo a surgical operation a few weeks ago because of health problems caused by the polluted and dirty environment. On the days he goes out of his house and walks in the city, breathing at night becomes difficult for him as his respiratory system gets clogged with the pollution.
Mohammad's 8-year old son also suffers from cough and respiratory problems continuously. Mohammed initially feared that the ailment was tuberculosis since the symptoms were similar but doctors have told him that the problems are caused by exposure to polluted air.
Over 3000 persons in Kabul are suffering from respiratory problems says Dr. Abas Basir, Deputy of the International Relations Department in the National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA).
Doctors treating children have also come across a growing incidence of pollution-related diseases. "Asthma, allergies, infectious diseases, cancer and blood diseases are the main diseases which most of the children have been suffering from during the past few years", says Dr. Ehsani, a specialist in childcare.
The population implosion in Kabul has put a great strain on the sanitation infrastructure that had already been destroyed during the years of civil war. Lack of a comprehensive sewerage system has meant that sewage flows in open areas in the city with a large number of houses lacking any sanitation systems. Officials in the Ministry of Urban Development say it will take at least 13 years to build a proper sanitation and sewage system for Kabul.
The lack of a proper system has meant that there are no means of garbage disposal and garbage accumulates in piles and rots on the streets and around houses. In district 6 of Kabul, 34-year old Nafas Gul cannot open the doors and windows of her house even during summer when cross-ventilation is very essential. "Though we suffer from hot weather in summers, we have to close the windows and doors because the area around stinks and this is annoying", she says.
The Kabul Municipality, particularly the Directorate of Sanitation does not have sufficient resources to collect and dispose of the garbage, says Mr. Qori. "With a population of just 500,000 persons 25 or 30 years ago, Kabul had approximately 2,500 sanitation workers equipped with 480 modern vehicles. Now the directorate has only 111 old and damaged vehicles which it inherited from that time. Though in most cities around the world the number of sanitation workers increases along with the population, in Kabul, despite a population increase, more sanitation workers are being retired rather than hired."
"Unpaved roads and vehicular pollution make it difficult to clean many of the roads," says Qori. Adding to the problem is the lack of garbage disposal facilities and lack of awareness about sanitation that results in people dumping their garbage in streams and gutters and blocking them. The ongoing construction and destruction of old houses to make away for new buildings also yields a great deal of waste construction material.
One of the solutions to the problem, says Dr. Basir, is to invite the private sector's participation in this process. Another method would be to have community groups such as residents of an area, shopkeepers or businesspeople pool their resources to pay for garbage collection.
Mr. Qori provides the example of Azizi Bank and Kabul Bank pointing out that both have launched sanitation campaigns in the capital.
He has been disappointed with the sluggish attitude of the Kabul Municipality which he says has not prioritized sanitation despite many suggestions that Mr. Qori made for dealing with the situation. It was only recently, he says, that the mayor of Kabul, Mr. Nawandish, is considering a plan to buy a number of modern machines for improving the sanitation.
One of the main causes of air pollution is the use of poor-quality oil in vehicles. The quality of petrol and diesel imported into Afghanistan varies vastly in quality and the use of low-quality fuels in old polluting vehicles adds to the problem.
The ministry of Commerce agrees that there is a problem but states that steps have been taken to deal with the problem. "Recently a number of importers who planned to import low-quality oil to Hairatan Port were arrested and detained," says Mr. Jawad Omar, Spokesman of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
According to officials in Kabul Traffic Department, measures have been taken to limit the number of polluting vehicles in the capital. Dr. Basir however says it is NEPA which will implement the pollution controls. Vehicles will be issued with environment cards and allowed to ply only on the basis of that.
Inadequate gas fuel and electricity has also resulted in the use of a number of polluting materials. Fouzia Amini, Head of the Department of Law in the Ministry of Women says diesel generators should be used only in emergencies as they are highly polluting.
One of the other fuel materials is wood. Though Mr. Qori believes that burning of wood should be banned, Mr. Amanullah Amanyar, Head of Forests Section in the Ministry of Agriculture says such a step must be preceded by adequate provision of gas and oil resources to people. Dr. Qori also points to the pollution from small factories and workshops which burn fuel in their manufacturing processes or as waste disposal. Dr. Basir believes small industries should require a license that will be issued on the basis of checks to make sure they are not polluting the environment.
Deforestation and green space
Environment pollution has become an issue of national concern exacerbated by the cutting down of trees and deforestation leading to a decrease in oxygen. The change has been so rapid that it has been felt by local residents like Attaullah Ahmadi of Ghazni. "The heat has rocketed upwards compared with previous years. The weather has become more intolerable," he says, attributing the climatic change to the decrease in green and forested areas.
Mr. Mohammad Waseq Husseini, Kabul University lecturer says: "Presently, some of the groups are cutting down the trees for use in construction of building and as fuel for bakeries, hotels, public baths. "Islam says that natural resources completely belong to the nation and not to a group. As Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) states: "People share in three things: Water, Fire and Pasture." says Mr. Husseini.
Steps to reverse the deforestation are being taken, says Mr. Amanyar. "The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock is implementing reforms to rehabilitate the national forests. We launched this national program last year and approximately 370 hectares of pistachio forests in Badakhshan province have been rehabilitated and now the process will continue in Herat."
One of the problems, say analysts, is the lack of awareness and responsibility amongst people with regard to their environment. "Kabul residents are interested in being metropolitan but they are not interested in the rules and conventions of living in a metropolis," says Mr. Qori. "If the situation continues like this, there won't be even a drop of water in Kabul and we will all have to have oxygen masks."
"It is our obligation to put garbage in the bags and dispose it in the proper place, where the garbage is being gathered. It is also people's obligation to stop grazing sheep in the green areas. But approximately 6000 sheep walk the green places in the capital daily. Additionally, most of the people throw out their garbage wherever they want and this is a big obstacle to creating a clean environment," he says.
Islam, say religious scholars, enjoins on people to take responsibility for their environment. "Whatever damages healthy social relations are prohibited. Sanitation is part of the Islamic religion," says Mohammad Arif Rahmani, Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Hajj. Additionally, Islam recommends Muslims to plant and cultivate trees.
If more care is not taken to address the current challenges to a clean and healthy environment, the growing dangers will deprive people of their most basis rights - the right to clean air to breath and clean water to drink.