By Syed Muhammad Abubakar
CHAKWAL: Hammad Sher Afghan, aged 34, lives in Dalail Pur village, situated 1.5km away from a cement factory in tehsil Choa Saidanshah of district Chakwal. Hammad says all of his five children suffer from asthmatic infections caused by increasing air pollution emitted from the nearby cement industries.
“Since childhood, my children are suffering from respiratory diseases and when it becomes unbearable, we take them to Rawalpindi to stay at relatives.”
Talking to Data Stories, Hammad informed that he spent almost 70 percent of his budget on medicines for his children on a monthly basis. “So far I have spent six million rupees on my children’s healthcare, by selling my farmland, which was all I had,” he explains.
Raja Zulfiqar Aslam, Chairman, union council Dalwal, also confirmed that the cement factories in Choa Saidanshah and Kallar Kahar were increasing air pollution in the area.
“At one of the cement plants, waste is burnt, which has further worsened air quality. Coal is used for energy generation by the cement industries, which is also a contributing factor,” he added.
Raja Zulfiqar organizes a health camp once every week, where 800-900 people come for checkups and most of them complain for breathing problems’.
It is important to note that these cement plants are situated in Kahoon Valley in Salt Range, which is a high priority ecological zone and a rich cultural heritage site, as it has the mystical Katas Raj temple and its sacred pond, which is highly revered by the followers of Hindu religion.
Talking to Data Stories, Asif Shuja Khan, former Director General of Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said one of the reasons for worsening air quality were the industrial facilities which consumed fossil fuels and emit air pollutants, which includes cement plants as well. He gave reference to a World Bank report “Cleaning Pakistan’s Air: Policy Options to Address the Cost of Outdoor Air Pollution” which he co-authored. The report reveals that waste burning which releases Carbon Monoxide, Particulate Matter (PM) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) also increases air pollution substantially’.
Now with air pollution exceeding the safe limits, Asif suggests to install air quality monitors in Kahoon Valley to gauge the levels of air pollution in the area saying this may lead to a policy action.
Talking to Data Stories Raja Jahangir, Deputy Commissioner (DC), Chakwal, who was later transferred, said that in order to control air pollution, dust catchers were being used by cement factories and also that the district government was ensuring compliance to various environmental laws. However, when asked that one of the cement factories is recycling trash for energy purposes, which is exacerbating air pollution, the DC clarified that before bringing waste from Lahore, the organic and inorganic components are at first separated. “As a matter of fact, waste recycling is good for economic and environmental purposes,” he added.
Dr Zulfiqar Ali Sabir, Health Officer, District Health Unit (DHU) Sardhi, talking to Data Stories said, “It is highly likely that due to cement industries, air pollution has increased leading to various respiratory diseases i.e. chest allergy, acute respiratory infection, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) and upper respiratory tract infection etc. among the locals of Choa Saidanshah and Kallar Kahar. It is unfortunate that the cement industries have done nothing to address the problem.”
Another resident, Yousaf informed that air pollution caused by cement industries was even affecting the livestock as these animals breathe the same air, and get sick or even die when they eat the grass covered with hazardous dust particles emitted from cement industries.
It is worthwhile to mention that the Tehsil Municipal Officer (TMO), Choa Saidanshah in a report had mentioned that along with the growing problem of water scarcity in the area due to groundwater abuse by cement factories, the problem of air pollution had also increased, as 18 wheelers loaded with waste come to the area to unload it, which was later utilized by the cement industries to produce energy.
“Their smoke (from the chimneys of the industries) is full of dust, which is bound to create stone in kidneys among the people of the area and also causing to create Asthma and T.B.,” highlighted the report.
Furthermore, the report reveals startling information that the heavy pollutants and toxic elements are settled on the nearby grasses and crops, which leads to further diseases among human beings and animals alike.
On the other hand, Naseem-ur-Rehman, Deputy Director EIA, EPA Punjab talking to Data Stories said Electrostatic Precipitator (EP) was being used by the cement factories in Choa Saidanshah and Kallar Kahar. However, he said added: “The problem arises when the cement plant either trips off or witnesses a breakdown.”
Naseem further said “The role of EPA Punjab is of a regulator and if anyone violates the law, we take action by issuing the Environmental Protection Order (EPO) against the violator/s.” He further affirmed his support to strengthen monitoring with respect to various parameters to address the environmental issues raised by local communities.
Syed Muhammad Abubakar is an international award-winning environmental writer with an interest in climate change, deforestation, food security and sustainable development. He tweets @SyedMAbubakar and can be reached via email@example.com