By Mazhar Iqbal
Environmentalists commented in a virtual dialogue on Sunday (3 July 2022) that neglecting the necessary measures to protect endangered species of animals, plants, and birds is equal to violating global conventions.
They further said that the Haveli region of Pakistan administered Jammu and Kashmir is rich in natural resources and some endangered species of plants.
Environmentalists warned local communities that there could be a serious health crisis if garbage and sewage- the largest pollutants in the region, continue to be dumped in rivers and streams.
Strict measures and bylaws are needed to stop the brutal and ruthless deforestation.
A dialogue between citizens and experts on environmental issues in district Bagh was organized in connection with the ongoing environmental awareness campaign by Press for Peace Foundation- a UK-based campaigning organization.
Environmentalists Prof. Dr. Siddique Awan and Aftab Hussain Bukhari, Social Activist Major (retd) Mahmood Khan, Journalist Raja Tahir Gulzar, Citizen Journalist Waleed Yaseen and other speakers addressed a virtual audience.
The participants of the dialogue agreed that the actions of government agencies in dealing with threats to the environment are disappointing.
The criminal silence of the environmental protection agency (EPA) of the region and other government agencies to curb the spread of stone crushing machines in Bagh and Arja is regrettable.
Social leader and freelance columnist Major (retd) Mahmood Khan said that due to brutal deforestation, the region is losing its precious asset. He said that the timber mafia is destroying the forests.
“If it continues, we will have nothing left. When the government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir was formed in 1947-48, the forest cover was 32 percent. That proportion is now 16 percent.”
He further said that forest laws need to be amended and highlighted the need to increase coordination between civil society and forest officials.
The stone crushing machines provide employment to the local people but employment cannot be provided at the cost of public health.
He warned that stone crushers in Bagh and Arja pose a threat to the health of the citizens. The EPA and other agencies need to strictly adhere to the relevant regulations in this regard.
Journalist Raja Tahir Gulzar said that there was a crisis of drinking water and sewerage in the Bagh district as the local population was dumping garbage and sewage water in the drains.
He lamented that despite spending Rs 1.5 billion on post-earthquake reconstruction, the people of Bagh were deprived of clean water and a modern sewerage system.
The recycling system could not be activated. Stressing the need for a mass awareness effort, he said that people need to be made aware of the use of filtered water.
While giving an example of incompetence and negligence of government agencies regarding health and the environment, he said that a dead monkey was found in the water supply system in Bagh city. The concerned official closed the inquiry without finding the reason behind such incidents.
Prof. Dr. Siddique Awan, who is an eminent environmentalist and Chairman of the Department of Zoology at Azad Jammu and Kashmir University, told the participants that unhealthy and contaminated food has increased the number of deadly diseases in the region, such as appendicitis, kidney disease, hepatitis, and heart attack.
He commented that such diseases are deeply related to artificial fertilizers, water pollution, and unnatural construction methods because the requirements of the environment are being ignored in modern construction.
Growing populations and poor planning pose a serious threat to forests and wildlife. “We need to encourage organic farming and follow the eco-friendly principles of agriculture and construction that the older generation has followed,” he said.
Chairperson Himalayan Rural Support Program Aftab Hussain Bukhari said that the Haveli region is rich in natural resources in terms of wildlife.
Neglecting the necessary measures to protect wildlife and forests is tantamount to violating global conventions on environmental protection.
He said that the use of household and community filters needs to be encouraged in order to make the use of clean water common among the people.
The Textbook Board should make necessary changes in the curriculum as per the environmental requirements so that the message of environmental protection can be passed on to the new generation.
He said that for the protection of forests and the environment, there is a need for comprehensive and inter-institutional partnership and coordinated thinking among all departments to promote sustainable development.
In this regard, there is a need to adopt the model of developed countries for environmental protection.
The government should provide the necessary opportunities and resources to benefit from the knowledge and experience of environmental experts in public sector universities.
Waleed Yaseen, coordinator of the Press for Peace Foundation and a social activist, said the biggest problem in district Bagh was garbage.
Instead of dumping garbage near wells, streams, and other drinking water sources, modern recycling methods need to be adopted.
The use of contaminated water from drains is spreading diseases. Due to improper care of forests and emission of toxic gases, forests are vanishing and the area is drying up.
The region could soon become barren if environmental issues are not addressed under an integrated policy. The speaker unanimously applauded Press for Peace Foundation’s public awareness campaign and stressed the organizers to expand it to other cities as well.
The writer is an author, educationist, and environmentalist. He can be contacted by emailing at [email protected]