During my university period, our teacher Col. (Rtd.) Mushtaq told us a short but a moralizing narrative. He said, “There was a visit by a European delegation in our university. During this visit, I consumed a beverage and frivolously flung its can on the floor, in their presence. One of the professors in the delegation picked it up and dispatched it to the proper place, embedding a feeling of sheer remorse in my soul”.
After years, this story remains fresh in my memory, since it has become a stereotypical tale of our daily lives. From posh areas to slums, from resident areas to commercial areas and from well-educated to illiterate Pakistanis, this tale is re-enacted countless times a day. Littering has become so entrenched in our national behavior that our passageways and cities are tarnished brazenly, without even an iota of hesitation and penitence, while in civilized societies it is considered a penal offense and incurs the imposition of heavy fines.
Ironically, Pakistan (literally meaning ‘Land of the Pure’) is the country which was founded on the behest of Islam– a religion which stipulates cleanliness as half of the faith. But what is obvious is the absolute disregard of the ethical and moral code of conduct. Despite the presence of a sense of personal hygiene in the masses, people are unable to acknowledge the significance of collective sanitation and environment protection. In fact, people are adamant not to consider social hygiene as a part of Islam; the repercussions of this daunting reality are portrayed well in our surroundings, and present a bleak picture of our national attitude. Our cities are inundated with incidences of littering, spitting and even relieving publicly. Certainly, the habit of littering has a causal relationship with environment destruction, though it is one of many reasons which tend to have a deleterious effect on the environment.
Any plea made to hinder such practices is usually met with derisions and ridiculing. The most traditional reply in such instances is, “No worries, sanitation workers will clear this mess away”. The only valid meaning to this statement turns out to be, “Yes, we, 180 millions, are supposed to mess up our country and a small fraction out of us is supposed to clear this mess”. A country bearing this kind of mindset is apt to live in unhealthy conditions. What’s even more imposing (and quite similar to the story of Col. Mushtaq), is that the Punjab government signed a MoU with Turkish companies to carry out sanitation works and clear the mess in 5 major cities of Punjab (i.e., we mess, they clean).
As the Environment Day is being celebrated on the 5th of June, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI) rankings for 2012 should be an eye-opener for us. Out of 132 countries, Pakistan was able to ‘snatch’ the 120th position, and was rated as a weak performer for the environment. The parameters for this research include environmental burden of disease, air pollution, water quality—all of which are directly related to our lack of concern for sanitation. Environmental Sustainability Index 2005 of Yale Center ranks us 131 out of 146 countries.
NGOs and activists must recognize by now that these workshops, seminars and walks have not been proven effective, and have remained unable to contain the problem. The improvement in this sector demands some proactive measures. The exigent steps should include the ratification of stringent environmental laws and the implementation of existing regulations. Pakistan Environment Protection Act 1997 is one of these existing regulations, which provides effective provisions for the government and the citizens. There is a need for an incentive to translate these provisions into practical use in a systematic way.
But what is far more important is the long term planning to uproot this social evil. It’s only through the nurturing of the society, that we can be able to see a clean Pakistan. Rules and regulations are followed as long as people are being policed. But beyond the fetters of law, it’s one’s moral values that play the role. Every citizen should be scrupulous about a clean Pakistan. This is possible only through a viable and practical curriculum, including substantial content about environmental awareness; a curriculum that ensures its efficacy through developing a sense of right and wrong among the young learners and transforming them into law-abiding citizens of the country.
As parents, the citizens’ duty is to set a non-compromising example, to instill the importance of disposing of litter and discarding it only at the appropriate places. And most important of all, every one of us should start acting like a mature citizen from now on. Our actions might serve as a good lesson for someone and this could start a chain reaction. Only then we would be able to literally prove that our country is Pakistan.