Pakistan’s cities have some of the worst recorded levels of pollution in the world. LSE alumni Maryam Naqvi argues that the Green Schools initiative of the NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) can promote civic environmental knowledge among the young in Pakistan and help create a generation with an entirely different outlook to the country’s environment.
Pollution is one of the most serious health threats Pakistan currently faces. The air quality of many of the country’s densely populated cities, such as Islamabad and Karachi, has become some of the worst in the world according to the Air Quality Index. Indeed, the Index ranked Lahore among the top ten cities with the worst air quality in the world. Similarly, the quality of water has deteriorated in recent years, one prominent example of which could be witnessed in the desert of Thar where in 2018, over 500 children lost their lives due to many water borne diseases such as typhoid, diarrhoea, intestinal worms and hepatitis which were an outcome of unhygienic water.
The persistent neglect of the environmental challenges has significantly contributed towards the poor health and living standards of Pakistanis. As recycling has not yet become a regular habit for people in Pakistan’s major cities, a sustained push to educate people about the eco-system, climate change and environmental degradation is urgently needed. And this push should begin in the classroom.
Green Schools Initiative
The Green Schools initiative of non-governmental organisations, such as the Pakistan arm of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) aims to promote civic environmental knowledge among the young of Pakistan – a positive step towards producing a generation with a positive outlook towards the environment in the country. The Green Schools Programme of WWF Pakistan is a flagship idea to provide certification to English-teaching Medium Schools to encourage them to become ‘Green Schools’. Such an initiative promotes interesting activities for children, not only educating them about their duties and responsibilities as young citizens towards environment conservation, but also regarding the role the environment can play in keeping them healthy.
The schools under the WWF programme have for instance some innovative yet exciting ideas to promote green activities. These include workshops on educating children about the sustainable use of natural resources through three easy steps: reducing, reusing and recycling plastic and other forms of waste in schools. Tree plantation is another part of this programme that aims at educating students about the significance of reduction in carbon emissions. WWF Pakistan also holds an annual debate, essay and arts competition in ‘Green Schools’ to allow the students to express themselves on different environmental themes and to become aware of the inter-linkages between the environment and culture in Pakistan.
The Green Schools Programme has many engaging activities for students, but there is still room left for a proper ‘Green Action Plan’ through Schools’ Environment Committee. Such an extension of these climate-focused initiatives can reach to the management of schools, to teachers as well as to students and should be aimed at involving students in environmental monitoring and decision making. A ‘Green Curriculum’ also has the power to be an integral part of the Green Schools Programme, which may include books, films, open online sources and workshop kits about green education.
The existing initiatives are a good move towards spreading civic environmental education among the young generation in Pakistan, but at the same time, more initiatives are required at the state level in order to tackle the environmental challenges in Pakistan, there is also a need of an increase in climate fund allocation to promote climate education at state school level. More collaboration is also needed with NGOs to expand these Green Schools Programmes both in scale and scope to provide greater coverage to the students and to include more schools in this ‘Green Schools Programme’. This will develop a widespread sense of environmental protection among the children and future generations in Pakistan which is also essential to correspond to those government schemes and projects aimed at reducing environmental degradation in the country by making their implementation and sustainability easier.
The environment should be an important priority for the Pakistani Government and initiatives like ‘Green Schools Programme’ should be taken seriously, as this sort of education can also be promoted to the college and the university level, where they too can participate in similar or better initiatives and through this, a proper system of higher environmental education can be introduced and sustained in the country.
This is necessary because in Pakistan, environmental damage has not only become a threat for the health of the people, but also for the economy. For instance, according to United Nations Food and Agriculture organization (FAO)’s ‘State of Forest Report’ (2007), there had been a mammoth rise to 41,000 hectares of deforestation per year in Pakistan, which has resulted in an economic loss in the form of expanded illegal timber smuggling in regions like Gilgit Baltistan where the issue of timber mafia had led to the excessive illegal cutting of trees and resulted in frequent floods in the province. One recent significant example of this was the floods in July 2018, where people were being killed due to floods caused by rapid melting of glaciers and the absence of trees to protect the region.
Calamities like these can be reduced both in terms of their occurrence as well as their damage, by first ensuring that the Forest laws are being regulated properly at the Central and Provincial level by the Government of Pakistan. As per some Pakistani news reports, the shadowy network of politically connected individuals and firms allow the trees’ cutting and the bribed forest department officials together with the local people do not stop the mafia from carrying out this practice.
In this scenario, education can also play the role of enlightening both for the people such as the natives of Gilgit Baltistan as well as the government officials in future, by instilling a culture of environmental protection among today’s children who will become tomorrow’s forest department officials as well as the grown up natives of the affected regions like Gilgit Baltistan to stop and counter the criminals such as the timber mafia by curbing the practice of corruption and performing their civic duties of environmental conservation sincerely.
Pakistan is already behind in literacy among developing countries, therefore, it also lags behind in education on modern solutions to environmental issues, such as the significance of recycling in the country, the sustainable use of agricultural land and the importance of drinkable and safe water. The government must reform the education curriculum at the state level and include a comprehensive proportion of environment in it, so that the works and initiatives like the ‘Green Schools Programme’ do not go in vain, rather they could be used as an inspiration to promote the Green Education and can also help Pakistan towards achieving the sustainable development.
This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the South Asia @ LSE blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting. Photo Credit: Tero Vesalainen, Pixabay
Maryam Naqvi holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development from LSE.