Poisoning for profit

.. by Islamuddin

Chitral was known as land of pristine natural beauty. The rustic nature of its beauty attracted nature lovers from all over the world. In our eager for development and mainstreaming we appear to have paid heavy price- steep and long lasting. Our natural physical environment has given place to plastic waste littered all over the land and in water ways causing land, air and water pollutions. Plastic is unnatural and non-biodegradable. Left in sunlight it decomposes with its gas component mixing with air and chemicals absorbed in soil and water creating life threatening environment.

As if it was not enough, of late unscrupulous profit makers have turned Chitral into a dumping ground for their substandard, spurious edibles like soft drinks, ice cream and junk food. These supposedly food items neither carry quality marks, content specifications or expiry dates. Young kids and children in impressionable age are falling victims to this phenomenon. As a result cancer cases especial of stomach, hypertrophy, anemia and cardiac are on the rise. To make things worse specialized health care is missing. Tehsil hospitals lack facilities, are understaffed and under-resourced. The same goes for DHQ hospital which is not only overburdened with patients but also lacks in facilities that a DHQ hospital should carry.

Of late we are having students collapsing in schools during assembly and classroom teaching. Few of them were referred to secondary and tertiary hospitals for diagnosis and treatment. The reports shared with us make a disturbing reading. All the patients were diagnosed for having eaten junk food and spurious drinks causing stomach cancer in one case and reduced kidney function in another case. This matter was brought to the notice of officials concerned but the answer received lef much to be desired. Without stopping the passing of the buck and developing coordinated strategy things are not likely to improve.

The wholesalers are primarily to blame. They become willing partners in this poisoning busing ess for profits. Left out wheat items, rice and spices are reprocessed to produce chips costing Rs.5 per sachet, while standards chips made from potato costs more, therefore poor kids tend to buy cheap edible items, mostly produced in the erstwhile FATA/PATA regions where law enforcement is the weakest. Even drugs meant to cure resulting ailments are spurious having been promoted by health officials on the pay roll of pharmaceuticals. In government granaries the situation is no better. Wheat is mixed with rock particles for weight and flour is no exception either. Those at the helm appear to be conniving in this dangerous game making people caught up between rock and the hard place.

Consequently suicides, mental diseases and drug addictions have increased manifold. Ironically Chitral offers no treatment facilities in these areas. There is no detoxification centre, no clinical psychologist and no coronary surgical unit in any of our hospitals. Before it is too late, our elected representatives and government officials should rise to this existential challenge by taking the following steps:

(1) Task force drawn from relevant departments may be deputed at border entry points to stop import of  dangerous food items into Chitral.

(2) Bazaar inspections may be increased to prevent under the table sale of spurious food items.

(3) Use of plastic bags should be outlawed and solid waste management should be taken care of by our civic outfits by creating dumping grounds and hiring workers and vehicles for the purpose. Slaughter houses may be stopped from disposing of their waste in the river which is the main source of potable water, trout fish and irrigation. These litters end up in our dams and barrages cutting down their capacity to store water and generate electricity.

(4) In watershed areas and the ones where subsoil water is closer to the surface, liquid waste disposal facilities may be created by building dumping pit in drier places and obliging villagers to pipe their liquid waste to the pit where water absorption capacity is good. People would be happy to foot the bill by way of civic tax which will sustain the activity.

(5) Traditional crops have failed to cope with climate change and are failing creating an urgent need for customized climate resilient seed development and plant varieties. Organic manure/compost and pesticides should replace chemical fertilizers and pesticides that have polluted our water and soil resources. This is the area where NGOs should intervene.

(6) Plantation in upland areas should be carried out on war footing to improve precipitation/rain, generate oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide and prevent soil erosion. The few remaining glaciers must be monitored to stop flash floods due to glacier burst. River beds and nullas must be deepened and widened to prevent flooding owing to over flow. The sand and rocks reclaimed through drudging can be sold at good price to bolster civic bodies funding. This should be a regular feature. The success of drudging is borne out by an experience of AKRSP/AKAH which has saved a vulnerable village from flooding so far. But fresh debris collected needs to be removed but there is no system for this purpose.

(7) Coordinated campaigns may be launched to create awareness among the people and to remind them of their responsibilities to partner with the government and NGOs to achieve the goals spelt out above. Without our ownership nothing will work. It is time we thought about our future generations instead of devising dubious ways to make easy money which may turn out as bubble in the long run. So let us commit to save Chitral for future generations. .. Islamuddin, Garm Chasma Chitral 10 July 2023.

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