Pakistan Reader# 298, 23 February 2022
Lahore in Pakistan, La Paz in Bolivia, and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia are among the cities with the highest levels of active pharmaceutical ingredients.
According to a study conducted at the University of York and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, the Ravi river in Lahore is the "most contaminated." According to reports, the river has the greatest concentration of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), affecting ecosystems, food chains, and individuals in innumerable ways.
The latest assessment iterates that pharmaceuticals have contaminated rivers worldwide, posing "a global hazard to environmental and human health." The research examined the concentrations of 61 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) at over 1,000 locations across the globe, including 258 rivers and 104 countries.
After being consumed by humans and cattle, the APIs are expelled into the sewer system or directly into the environment; however, some leak from pharmaceutical plants. Lahore in Pakistan, La Paz in Bolivia, and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia are among the cities with the highest levels of APIs. In contrast, rivers in Iceland, Norway, and the Amazon rainforest were among the least polluted rivers globally
Lahore had the highest average cumulative concentration of 70.8 µg/L, with one test site attaining a maximum cumulative concentration of 189 µg/L. The primary reason behind this worrying state is directly connected to decades of uncontrolled dumping and discharge of toxic urban and industrial wastewater, as well as solid garbage along the river banks.
The central argument, as reported by Dawn: "The highest API concentration was determined at sampling sites receiving inputs from pharmaceutical manufacturing, sites receiving a discharge of untreated sewage, locations in particularly arid climates and sites receiving sewage exhaust truck emissions." The locations with the lowest API values were characterized by low anthropogenic effect, limited use of modern medicine, sophisticated wastewater treatment facilities, and substantial dilutional riverine flows.
Importance of the Ravi
The Ravi is one of the five rivers running through Punjab and gives the province its name. The river is a lifeline for Punjab residents; over 52 million depend on it. Also, the river network helps feed millions of Pakistan as almost 75 per cent of the river basin is used for agriculture. The Asian Development bank says: "the river is home to centuries-old cultural and religious treasures plus vital ecosystems and the biodiversity they support. Moreover, it hosts several irrigation and hydroelectric projects that help meet the region's agricultural and power needs.
Government's response and actions
The pollution of the Ravi is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. The Lahore High Court appointed a task force in 2012, which found that 1,200-1,400 small to major industrial companies were dumping hazardous chemical and medical waste into the river. The commission suggested that polluters be fined heavily and that treatment units be built to handle urban and industrial wastewater before releasing it into the river. Unfortunately, nothing has been done ever since.
PM Imran Khan has assured that the Ravi Riverfront Project would revitalize the economy by benefiting over 40 industries, creating employment, and bringing in much-needed foreign exchange. However, the project will only cause more harm than benefit, claims environmentalist Afia Salam. The revelation of significant pharmaceutical pollution in and around the river basin necessitates rapid government action. Whether or not its contentious riverfront city idea succeeds, it must clean up the river.
Successive governments have neglected to recognize its importance and revitalize it. The present and future governments must set up "achievable goals" such as enhancing the water quality in the basin, monitoring agricultural and industrial practices, establishing wastewater treatment, and strengthening environmental management. Otherwise, River Ravi will not be alone in its suffering.
Imran Gabol, "Ravi most polluted river in the world," Dawn, 16 February 2022
"Polluted Ravi," Dawn, 17 February 2022
"Ravi most polluted river in the world: study," The Express Tribune, 17 February 2022
"Pharmaceutical pollution of the world's rivers," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 16 February 2022
"Lahore's river Ravi the most polluted in the world," The Tribune, 16 February 2022
Javairia Shafi, "Assessment of Water Quality and Heavy Metals Contamination of River Ravi in Pakistan," Pakistan Journal of Analytical & Environmental Chemistry, December 2018
"Pakistan's River Ravi Eco-revitalization master plan," Asian Development Bank, 2015