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INAUGURAL ADDRESS as Minister for Environment, Government of the Punjab, at SUPARCO Seminar on Pollution, LCCI Builidng, Lahore.

It gives me particular pleasure to be with you this morning, because SUPARCO is an organization close to me.
I have been privileged to visit it twice this year with participants from the National School of Public Policy as part of their Inland Study Tour. On both occasions I have been deeply impressed by the commitment, professionalism and concern that its employees show.
Another bond is the fact that one of the management team from SUPARCO Agha Talat Perwaiz was himself a participant in one of our courses. It is always gratifying to see former students (if I may call him that) make not just good but better.
That in a sense provides me with a cue to describe the workings of SUPARCO. It is to make our lives not simply good, but better. And this particular seminar on Aerosols and their Environmental Impact is an instance of that commitment and concern for an environment in which we all live collectively.
That is why the presence of so many of you from different aspects of society – scientists, teachers, researchers, consultants, and students - provides an added meaning and relevance to the proceedings that you will be conducting here today and tomorrow. The use of fossil fuels for providing energy is an obvious culprit in the degradation of our air. It is our air because we all breathe it and therefore have a right to it.
Another culprit is the logging and burning of forests. I recall visiting Kula Lumpur in Malaysia two years ago and being unable to see the buildings across the street, so high was the pollution from smoke drifting across the border from farms in neighbouring Indonesia. I discovered that the smog was caused by Indonesian farmers who found it cheaper to burn the stubble on their sugar plantations than to have it cleared by hand. It was a false economy: the Malaysians were paying for the inefficiency of the Indonesians.
This brings to me a third culprit – inconsiderate neighbours.
Pollution – whether of water or air – does not recognize man-made borders or international boundaries. Why should I suffer because of the negligence or the environmental ignorance of my neighbour? Or for that matter, he from mine?
We live in a dangerous neighbourhood, and I do not mean that in the nuclear sense. According to the World Bank, an estimate half to one million people die prematurely each year from exposure to air pollution. That figure ceases to be a statistic, when one of those million people could be your son or daughter, mother or father. On another level, the damage caused by air pollution is even greater. The effect on crops, vegetation, forests and structures is in the order of $1 - $5 million. Again that is not just another statistic – especially if you are a Pakistani farmer.
Today, urbanization is the menace that we cannot live with, nor live without. According to the WHO, around 30% to 40% of the cases of asthma and 20% - 30% of all respiratory diseases are directly linked to air pollution. It took years for the international community to link cigarette smoking with cancer; let us not wait decades to tackle the menace of air pollution.
Our nation is moving into a new phase of marginal but perceptible prosperity. You have only to see the number of motor cars on the roads, the number of flights, the move towards greater industrialisation to realize that the result will be an increased exposure of our population to heavy metals, persistent and toxic chemicals.
The increasing levels of urban pollution have attracted the attention of civil society, the government both at the Federal and at the Provincial levels.
Here in the Punjab, the government has taken a number of initiatives which include regulation of industrial and vehicle emissions.
To be effective, any regulator has to rely upon the information provided by scientist such as yourselves. You are not only the eyes and the ear but the lugs of society. Action demands intensive and accurate research, periodic reassessments and adaptable development strategies.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am keenly aware of the initiatives and the important role that SUPARCO is playing in the advancement and application of Science and Technology to our societal needs. I am confident that SUPARCO will live up to its declared objectives. This seminar is one such fulfillment of its goals. It will, I am sure, raise the consciousness of the scientific community and of society to environmental issues that we all too often regard as something our neighbour should do something about.
Your productive interaction will be the best contribution you can make to problems that are global in their cause and global in their effect.
Once we thought bottled water was luxury.
Let us not reach the state where clean air in a bottle becomes a necessity.
13 December 2007
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