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EDITORIAL: The historical truth remains that a number of great cities or civilizations were born from the womb of rivers. Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore, is one such progeny; it was born on the banks of river Ravi and flourished as seat of political power and custodian of rich medieval cultures for centuries. But that mother of city of Lahore is now dying at the very hands of its own son.

About 1300 tons of hazardous and untreated waste goes into it on a daily basis, and that is almost half of total municipal and industrial discharge pumped into all rivers of Pakistan. The river is shrunk to a narrow patch of sand with a few drains of water flowing through them.

And that being what Ravi is today it is no more a must-visit tourist destination, nor a source of living for the fishermen. Not only is the air flowing through Lahore highly polluted, its Ravi is also said to be the world’s most contaminated river with active pharmaceutical ingredients that pose serious threat to environment and human health.

According to a study on pharmaceutical pollution of world rivers, conducted at the University of York and published Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the US, the waters of Ravi contain particles, including paracetamol, nicotine, caffeine and the drugs that are commonly prescribed by medical practitioners for the treatment of patients of epilepsy and diabetes. The study places waterways in Lahore with those of Bolivia and Ethiopia as most polluted while rivers in Iceland, Norway and the Amazon rainforest fared the best.

The dying river Ravi has asked three questions: Can the municipal authorities do something for its survival? What about its future when the government has planned to build a new city on the river basin? Can Pakistan or the United Nations’ relevant wings stop India from diverting Hudiara drain towards River Ravi? And there is no hope – at least as of now – that the city fathers would be ever in a position to stop flow of sewage and untreated water waste into Ravi.

If the newly built capital city of Islamabad has not been able to ensure that the mountain streams that flow through it retain their crystalline luster how then that is possible in Lahore where streets remain cluttered with rubbish for weeks. Then there is a lot of industrialization on the banks of Ravi and it’s beyond one’s belief that the city government can stand up to the industrial czars.

And as for the new city, Ravi River Front Urban Development Project, that is almost a done thing. In a recent recorded video, Prime Minister Imran Khan had said this project would turn around the national economy and benefit 40 industries, offer hundreds of jobs and bring in much-needed foreign exchange. But many don’t agree with him; among them being the Asian Development Bank which reportedly opined that the riverfront project is a “serious threat to health”.

Of course, as the prime minister said, around $1.5 billion foreign investment has already reached Pakistan for this project, and as money matters the most to the present foreign money-starved government there is not much of force in the argument to save River Ravi from becoming the injurious germs carrying body of waters. But that’s not how the Planet Earth is going to be in not too distant future. Given the unstoppable rise of climate change, we would soon enough learn that too much tinkering with Nature is a dangerous pastime.

Clean, drinkable and pharmaceuticals-free water is going to be quite soon the most urgent need of residents of Lahore. You can build an industrial complex anywhere, but bring back to life a dead river. Pattan Minra in Cholistan was once the boat terminal to cross the river, but no more. It is because the river is dead while Pattan Minra has no visitors.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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