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Photo Source: IQAir

Pakistan Reader# 311, 12 March 2022

Karachi is the world’s fourth-largest polluted city. Two reasons why



The economy and geography of Karachi make the city the fourth-largest air polluted city

Ankit Singh

On 28 February, Business Recorder published a news report on air polluted cities of Pakistan. It placed Karachi as the most polluted Pakistan city and the fourth largest polluted globally. The news report tries to explain excessive high levels of particulate matter in Karachi. According to the WHO, air pollution is one of the main hazards to the environment and human health. It causes heart ailments, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, cancer and pneumonia. Seven million people die globally each year due to ambient and household air pollution exposure.

Air quality is a major concern in the main urban cities of Pakistan. The symptom is exaggerated in cities situated in the Indus basin as they are densely populated cities in plains of the basin with almost no air gradient. There are many reasons behind the air pollution in Karachi, considered the backbone of the economy of Pakistan.
Two primary reasons can explain Karachi’s pollution problem

The economy and geography of Karachi
Karachi is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world; it contributes 25 per cent to the national income of Pakistan. According to Akbar Zaidi, it contributes around a third of the total revenue generated in Pakistan. The rapid urbanization has attracted migrants,, which causes larger consumption patterns and disproportionate attention on waste disposal policies, further increasing the sources of particulate matter. According to a research paper by Omer and Abid, plastic production is proportionate towards altering demographic trends. In the year 2009 in Pakistan, 5.92 million individuals moved within the country, of which 87.6% opted for urbanization. Intensive construction activities of residential and industrial projects around the larger metropolitan area of Karachi also generate a huge number of particulate matters in the air.

Karachi is settled on the foothills of the larger Kirthar Range; the range encompasses the city in its north and north-west and blocks the wind flow from the city to the country's landmass. This bowl-like situation of the city traps the incoming wind from the sea, intensifying the concentration of particulate matters like PM2.5, PM10 and NO2 within the city. This is not the case with Karachi only; if one looks at the picture of the focus note, one can observe that the Himalayas and Sulaiman ranges enable the trapping of wind and particulate matters in it. The situation worsens in winters when the air becomes heavier, and hence one can make sense of the red belt along the riverine plains of Indus and Ganga. On top of that, mangroves forests in Karachi are under extreme pressure due to illegal logging, irrigation and untreated industrial waste. Mangrove forests in Karachi help in absorbing carbon dioxide and making clean air.

Linear Economy versus circular economy
The case of urban centres in emerging economies is similar across third world countries. According to IQAir, 11 out of the top 20 cities in air quality are in developing regions of Asia and South East Asia. The developing economies, due to rapid and unregulated economic expansion and less inclination to invest in cleaner sources of energy which are still kept secretly in intellectual properties of the developed world. A large chunk of economies follow the linear approach of industrial development, which lacks the important method of discarding the industrial and urban waste.

On the other hand, circular economy focuses on adaptive practices that use a proactive approach in product design and product reuse rather than a reactive approach to demand and consumption. The research by Omer and Abid frames the linear approach used in plastic production in the country and adds that only 50 per cent of the plastic waste is left unattended in the country. Karachi cleans only 84 million gallons out of 540 million gallons of sewage wastewater. Therefore, the report makes a case for air pollution in Karachi in its waste material management and rapid urbanization have added to the problem of air pollution in Karachi. However, it is to be noted similar linear method of economic development is preferred in developing economies to offset the capital and technological disadvantage. The agenda of development will remain a dilemma for the rest of the decades of the century for not just Karachi but all major urban centres of developing nations.

References
Karachi world’s fourth largest polluted city: report,” The Express Tribune, 28 February 2022
Air quality in Pakistan,” IQAir, 11 March 2022
 Imran Ayub, “Weather warning as Karachi air pollution goes dangerously up,” Dawn, 24 October 2021
Supporting Public–Private Partnership Investments in Sindh Province,” Asian Development Bank, 22 January 2016
Urbanisation, pollution wiping out Karachi’s wildlife,” Dawn, 30 October 2019
Muhammad Umer and Muhammad Abid, “Economic Practices in Plastic Industry from Raw Material to Waste in Pakistan: A Case Study,” Asian Journal of Water, Environment and Pollution, 15 April 2017
 

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