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Pakistan Heads to Brazil With Its Own Eco-Worries

PAKISTANI Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose country now chairs the Group of 77, the coalition of developing countries, wants to play a high-profile political role at this week's Earth Summit in Brazil. But his participation also signals growing environmental concern here.

Pakistan's National Conservation Strategy (NCS), launched May 15, says 150 billion rupees ($6 billion) are needed over the next 10 years to clean up the environmental damage in the country caused by pollution, deforestation, and a growing population.

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"Our mountains have suffered because of the fallen trees, our air is congested due to pollution, and our soil is feeling the effects of erosion," says a provincial government official. "We are now trying to take on the gigantic task of trying to fix it all."

According to government estimates, the average Pakistani vehicle emits 20 times as much hydrocarbon, 25 times as much carbon monoxide, and 3.6 times as much nitrous oxide as the average vehicle in the United States. Meanwhile, urban areas have grown at a fast pace. Almost 31 percent of the country's 112 million people lived in urban areas in 1990, compared to 24 percent in 1960.

Environment Minister Anwar Saifullah Khan recently said the government would spend up to 90 billion rupees ($3.6 billion) from its own budget to meet conservation targets. Other funding may come from the private sector and Pakistan's foreign aid donors. Mr. Khan also promised new legislation within a year to tighten controls over industrial pollution and waste disposal.

So far, the government has proposed 14 areas where projects under the NCS would be introduced. These include measures to improve the quality of urban air, soil, water resources, forests, and farmlands. There are also plans to improve population-control programs to cut down on an annual birthrate of more than 3 percent. At this rate, Pakistan adds as many people to itself every three years as the population of Karachi, the nation's largest city.

The task remains difficult, however, due to a variety of problems. "We are burdened with a resource constraint which prevents us from spending large amounts of money on the environment," a senior government source says. Efforts such as forcing vehicle owners to convert to the use of better quality fuels like unleaded gas are also considered difficult because of regulatory and consumer costs.

Pakistan is expected to join other developing countries of the South at the Rio summit in asking for more Western aid to help clean up the environment, arguing that global environmental degradation has been caused by industrialization in the North.

Along with resource constraints, Pakistan faces the task of curbing corruption such as the theft of lumber from forests, which is at least partly responsible for deforestation. Pakistani leaders will need to find a balance in its dual task of discouraging industrial pollution while encouraging industrial growth as part of its effort to liberalize the economy.

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