Environmental Justice Must Be At The Center Of Our Attention

Environmental Justice Must Be At The Center Of Our Attention
In 2022, Pakistan ranked as the 3rd most polluted country in the world. Lahore ranks as the second most polluted city in the world with an average Air Quality Index of 153, which is twelve times higher than the World Health Organization’s guidelines. The elite may be able to purchase air purifiers, work from home and wear expensive face masks. The poor, the elderly, pregnant women, physically disabled people, children, and animals however, are heavily exposed and have to breath in harmful toxins.

To mitigate the effects of such intense air pollution, the Lahore High Court issues notices every winter for the closure of schools and offices. While this is a welcome move, the root cause of the worst air quality in the world is hardly being addressed. Our callousness can be observed from the fact that it was only in the first half of 2019 that the US Embassy in Islamabad, and the three US Consulates in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar began monitoring and publishing real-time PM2.5 data online. If only we had the same consistency in sports or academia, we might have had produced more Nobel laureates and Olympic medals.

Currently, based on data obtained from 37 independent air quality data collection points, Pakistan has an average air quality index (AQI) of 156, just five points shy of Chad and Bangladesh, who take the top spot in the rankings for worst air quality. The World Health Organization suggests an AQI of 25 is suitable for humans, and while no scientific literature exists as to what AQI would be suitable for non-human animals, we can assume that since both human and non-human species exhibit a similar biological composition, a similar AQI data matrix can be applied to non-human species.

In low-income countries such as Pakistan, Chad, or Bangladesh, because pet ownership may be fiscally arduous, no annual veterinarian checkups are performed on animals. As a consequence, no vaccines shots are delivered to non-human animals, and an animal’s health may be compromised and be at a greater threat of suffering harm due to extremely poor air quality.

As of this point, no research exists to highlight the effects of breathing poison on non-human animals. For a country that enshrines the values of Islam under Article 2 of our Constitution, the failure to collate data on the wellbeing of animals is in direct contravention of Islamic principles.

‘And there is no creature on [or within] the earth or bird that flies with its wings except [that they are] communities like you. We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered’ [The Noble Qur’an, 6:38].

On the other hand, under the famous Ms. Shehla Zia v. WAPDA, PLD 1994 SC 693, our August Supreme Court has declared the right to a healthy environment as a fundamental human right. As of the time of this writing, that human right has not been extended to any vulnerable community, including inter alia the poor, the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women, children, and animals.

If we wish to truly make a difference, we need a government policy that calls for reducing our carbon footprint and places environmental justice at the center of attention. This will naturally involve protecting vulnerable communities. This may be achieved through a new law, a comprehensive policy or perhaps strategic litigation.

The time to act however, is now, and if we delay this any further, we may not have a Pakistan left to save anymore.

Altamush Saeed is an LLM candidate in Environmental and Animal Law at the Lewis and Clark Law School