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Lahore Canal

Lahore Canal

Beautiful View of Lahore Canal

Photo by Saad Ahmad Qasmi

A Tale of Two Cities (part II)

by Ahmad Rafay Alam

To paint another picture, there are nine Food Inspectors in Lahore. These are the people that ensure the food Lahoris eat is hygienic. For this important task, there should be 70 food inspectors. Because of the lack of enforcement of food regulations, our hospitals are full of patients with typhoid, cholera and diarrhoea (Pakistan is the second-highest in South Asia for number of child diarrhoea cases). And guess what? When these patients come to government-run hospitals, they find underperforming doctors. The quality of hospitals, basic and rural health in Punjab, which are supposedly decentralised to the local level, is deplorable. Another reason people are streaming into hospital ill-equipped to deal with them is the incredible amount of pollution in our cities, including Lahore. The air quality in Lahore is the worst in history and the World Bank estimates there are some 45 million estimated cases of respiratory diseases in Pakistan each year. To add to this is a rundown water and sanitation system. Because of sub-standard water quality, because sewage pipes regularly leak into water mains, because the sanitation department of Lahore employs only 1,700 men (there should be more than 7,000), the number of such cases can only increase.

What do sanitation, health and air pollution have to do with the Canal Road? Let me explain. In order to even be considered as having safe habitation for its residents, a city must also provide sanitation and health facilities. They are like two sides of the same coin. Without good sanitation and health facilities you cannot be said to have safe habitats. At the moment, Lahore is very lucky. Although the P&D Department of the Government of Punjab issued a report in which it admitted that half of urban Punjabis live in slums and katchi abadis, Lahore is a relatively well-designed city with a relatively lower percentage of its residents living in squalor. But this is set to change. In the next two decades, if our sanitation, health and air quality do not improve, this city will become unliveable. It will stretch from Shahdara to the north-east to the Indian border on the west and halfway to Kasur to the south-west. But, as things stand, most of this area has already been taken over, plotted up and sold by private real-estate developers. By the time the next twenty million people pour into Lahore, these areas – automobile-dependant and without a single environment impact assessment or mitigation measure between them – will be choking under the weight of the urban necropolis they have become part of. Continue reading