By Liaqat Karim
Among many other decent attributes of the inhabitants of Hunza, their care and love for environment is matchless. Every year teachers, students, shopkeepers, social workers and other professionals attend the environmental awareness walk on 5th June to celebrate World Environment Day. Chanting slogans of “Keep Hunza Clean”, the ecofriendly residents of Hunza, get together on a predefined locale where few orators are invited to share their ideas. However, this year the Business Association Hunza has decided to celebrate 5th June in a different way. According to news in a local newspaper (Mohasib), the Business Association of Hunza has decided to collect all the trash from the valley and to dump it near the residence of the personnel involved in local administration including the Deputy Commissioner’s (DC) residence.
In my opinion this will be a lesson for the local authorities and will force them to take serious steps to control accumulation of garbage in Nallahs, roadsides, streets and water channels. Indeed, this will help us to avoid any further damage to environment caused by garbage; nonetheless garbage is not the only environmental issue we face, rather it is a minor and controllable issue. We need to literate the mass regarding other issues too, which include the potential issues which may be encountered because of the Pak-China mega projects. The business corridor between Pakistan and China is one of them. It will cause several environmental issues, if general practices followed in Pakistan are adopted for the construction and operation of the corridor. This is the perfect time to ask our government to ensure rule of environmental laws and to ensure adoption of best engineering practices during all the phases of the project.
Thousands of trucks are expected to use KKH on daily basis, once this business corridor is developed. We expect this corridor to cause economic boom in the area however, we should also expect enormous emissions from trucks, dust from road, oil spills, traffic jams, increased number of road accidents and other social evils in the area. This project is going to affect us forever and our consent shall be included in all the decision makings regarding this corridor. As a member of this ecofriendly society, I would suggest following things to avoid any potential environmental degradation in the area.
- No haste shall be done, while preparing the feasibility report for this project. It has been observed that in order to complete projects in limited time, the government neglects the environmental aspect of the projects causing serious issues in the long run.
- The feasibility report should address the issues related to land scarcity in valleys like Aliabad, Ganish and Murtazabad. Alternate options shall be considered to avoid consumption of land in such areas which include fly overs, alternate routes, underpasses and other engineering means.
- A proper environmental firm shall be employed to undertake the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The selection shall be purely on merit. Proper advertisement of bidding shall be ensured before employing any firm to do the same.
- Most of the government institutions involved in developing environmental assessments have limited professional skills; hence donors like USAID, Asian Development Bank etc. prefer private institutions to undertake these assessments. Similar approach should be adopted for this project.
- The mitigation measures proposed in the EIA shall be included in the bidding document for the contractors, to legally bound them to implement these suggested measures in a real sense.
- Local contractors, professionals and laborers shall be given preference without compromising on the merit and quality.
- Compensation shall be given to the owners of land in accordance to the market rate of the land.
- The GB EPA should plan emission checks on the machines including trucks and heavy machinery. This shall be done during construction phase as well as in the operation phase. Any vehicle exceeding the NEQs for emissions. GBEPA is nascent and may need funding for this purpose. The local government shall allocate funds for GBEPA.
- During the recent refurbishment of KKH, the public nuisance was on its peak. This was caused by poor planning of the work. The 1.5 hour journey from Hunza to Gilgit stretched into a never ending expedition during those days. This should be avoided in any case. The construction work shall be so planned that it causes least public nuisance.
- The existing traffic police department shall be upgraded or new department of KKH traffic police shall be made to ensure proper control of potential heavy traffic after the completion of the project. This department, in any case, should not be less equipped than the motorway police.