Environment of Pakistan


Pakistan stretches from the Arabian Sea to the high mountains of Central Asia, and covers an area of 803,944 km2


It lies approximately between 24° and 37° north latitude, and between 61° and 78° east longitude. It neighbours Iran to the west, Afghanistan to the north, China to the northeast, and India to the east and southeast along a 2,000 km, partially contested border. There is a 1,000 km long coastline along the Arabian Sea.


The climate is continental and is characterised by extreme variations of temperature. Winter (January) temperatures range from 68°F along the coast to 4°F in the high mountains (above 460 m). Summer (July) temperatures range from 95°F in the southeastern deserts to 32°F in the high mountains. The southwest monsoon (July-October) provides rainfall of about 40 inches or more in the mountainous northern areas and about 6-8 inches on the coast. Rainfall varies from year to year, and successive periods of flooding and drought are not uncommon.


Pakistan can be divided physiographically into four regions:

The Himalayan and the trans-Himalayan mountain ranges, rising to an average elevation of more than 6,000 m and including some of the world's highest peaks, such as K2 (8,611 m) and Nanga Parbat (8,126 m), make up the great highlands which occupy the northern most part of the country. The Balochistan Plateau, a broken highland region about 300 m in elevation with many ridges crossing it from northeast to southwest, occupies the western and southwestern sectors of the country. The Indus Plain, the most prosperous agricultural region of Pakistan, covers an area of 520,000 km2in the east and extends to 1,100 km from northern Pakistan southward to the Arabian Sea. In the southeast are the desert areas.

Administrative Divisions

The main administrative divisions are the provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) plus the Federal Capital Territory of Islamabad. Two other regions, the Northern Areas and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) are administered by the Government of Pakistan.


Pakistan has 225 Protected Areas (PAs) 14 national parks, 99 wildlife sanctuaries, and 96 game reserves. It is a world of rapidly shrinking wetlands, some of them of international significance, of wondrous juniper forests, minute life forms which buzz their way to a magical existence, of stunning mountains, and much more.

Pakistan covers a number of the world's ecoregions, ranging from the mangrove forests stretching from the Arabian Sea to the towering mountains of the western Himalayas, Hindukush and Karakoram.


The country lies at the western end of the South Asian subcontinent, and its flora and fauna are composed of a blend of Palearctic and Indomalayan elements, with some groups also containing forms from the Ethiopian region.

Ecological zones

Pakistan is divided into 9 major ecological zones.

WWF - Pakistan is working to conserve the environment through its Target Driven Programmes (TDPs) that address issues pertaining to samples of forest, freshwater, marine ecosystems, species, toxics and climate change. The emphasis is on conserving representative sites of ecologically important areas within these Target Driven Programmes. Conservation of desert ecosystems is included under forests.

In most of its projects, WWF-P supports local community initiatives to conserve natural resources, and helps look for ways to improve community livelihoods. Almost all conservation projects have the following common features and priorities: partnership with local bodies and capacity building at all levels from local communities to government bodies

Critical Ecosystems

Under the Global 200, ecosystems have been ranked to carry out conservation through comparative analysis. It covers all habitats on the land masses and in the ocean. The Earth has been divided into 238 ecoregions, by the United Nation, the National Geographic Society. Out of them 5 are in Pakistan. The Global ecoregions of Pakistan are:

Threats to Biodiversity


Pricinciple cause of deforestation in Pakistan is the consumption of fuelwood and timber.


Rapidly increasing domestic livestock population is the direct cause of degradation on rangelands and forests.

Soil Erosion & Desertification

Agricultural activities and overstocking has lead to the reduction of vegetation cover, resulting in the acceleration of both wind and water erosion.


The construction of dams and barrages in the Indus basin to control flooding and store water for irrigation have greatly increased the amount of Wetlands habitat in Pakistan.

Reduction in freshwater flow to the coast has greatly increased salinity in mangrove forests. The most serious effect has been the consequent conversion of land to agriculture, with removal of extensive tracts of riverine and thorn forests and the resulting disappearence from large areas of the associated fauna.


Being a serious problem faced by the agriculture sector, pockets of forests of the Indus basin could be threatened.


Pakistan faces a serious challenge of growing pollution in urban areas and water courses. Likewise discharge of sewage and industrial effluent into aquatic and marine ecosystems is also on the rise.In Pakistan's 1981 census, 415 cities were classed as urban in which less than one third of the population resides, which is increasing by 4.4% per annum.


There is a strong tradition of illegal hunting and sports hunting in Pakistan. This has resulted into the decline of bird and mammal species.

Agricultural practices

Pakistan faces degradation of agro-ecosystems caused by irrigation. The agricultural use of pesticides and fertilisers has rapidly increased in recent years. Pesticide use in Pakistan has increased 7 fold in quantity between 1981 and 1992.

Protected Areas

Pakistan has a network of 225 Protected Areas comprising 14 National Parks, 99 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 96 Game Reserves, and 16 unclassified (private, proposed or recommended). The total area covered by these categories is 9,170,121 ha which is 10.4% of the total land area (Biodiversity Action Plan for Pakistan, 1998). Based on their global significance, 9 wetlands have been designated as Ramsar sites.

No World Heritage site has yet been designated. Most major habitats are represented within Pakistan's Protected Area system. However the size, distribution and management of these areas do not meet the needs of the ecosystems they are meant to safeguard.

Major National Parks of Pakistan


Any consideration of Pakistan's environment must take into account the impact of a population of 130 million (1998). The estimated annual growth rate of 3.0% (Human Development in South Asia, 1997) is one of the highest of any developing country. Almost half of the population is less than 15 years old. The population is concentrated in the fertile Indus River valley and along the river's major tributaries in the northern and northeastern portions of the country. By contrast, western and southwestern Pakistan are sparsely inhabited.

Pakistan has a developing mixed economy based largely on agriculture, light industries, and services. Although the Gross National Product is increasing more rapidly than the population, the GNP per capita, estimated at US$ 430, is among the lowest for developing countries. Up to 50% of the workforce is employed in agriculture. The industrial sector is growing, with manufacturing now generating half of the country's exports. Development of natural gas, oil and mineral deposits is also contributing to Pakistan's economic growth.

However, growth has been uneven and widespread poverty persists, particularly in the rural areas, where two thirds of the population lives. Pakistan ranks 134th of the 173 countries on the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Index (Human Development Report, 1998). At least 35 million people live in abject poverty and public access to health, education, clean water, sanitation and family planning remains low.

Air Pollution Factsheet

Air pollution consists of substances present in the atmosphere in high enough levels to harm humans, other animals, plants, or materials. Air pollution can result from human activities such as driving cars. It can also come from natural sources, such as smoke from forest fires caused by lightning or from volcano eruptions.

The story so far:

Pollution caused by humans is now disturbing the delicate balance of nature on earth. Far from being a new problem, pollution has been around for centuries. However, as the population increases, pollution problems also increase. A combination of a rapidly multiplying population, and the growth of industries and car use are the main causes of air pollution today.

Much of the worlds' population lives in areas where air pollution levels exceed World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. In Asia, rapid urbanisation, with the associated growth in industry and vehicle use, has increased emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Further large increases of air pollutants are expected if current development patterns persist.

Major Air Pollutants & their Impacts

Suspended Particulate Matter

This is a mixture of solid and liquid particles suspended in the air. Suspended particulates are seen as dust, smoke, and haze which can make breathing difficult, especially for people with chronic respiratory problems.

Volatile OrganicCompounds (VOCs)

VOCs include gasoline, paint solvents, and organic cleaning solutions. They evaporate and enter the air as vapour, and as molecules resulting from the incomplete burning of fuels and wastes.

Carbon Monoxide (CO)

One source of carbon monoxide is vehicle emissions. This is an invisible, odourless gas that is highly toxic to air-breathing animals because it interferes with the blood's ability to transport oxygen. Even low levels can start or increase damage to the heart in individuals with artery or heart problems. At medium concentrations, carbon monoxide causes headaches and fatigue. As the concentration increases, reflexes slow down and drowsiness occurs. At high levels carbon monoxide causes death. People at greatest risk from carbon monoxide include pregnant women, infants, and those with heart or respiratory diseases.

Nitrogen Oxides (NOX)

Nitrogen Oxides are lung irritants that can lead to acute respiratory diseases in children. They may also cause over-sensitivity to pollen and dust in people suffering from asthma.

Sulphur Oxides (SOX)

Sulphur Dioxide is converted to sulphuric acid in the atmosphere. It can be poisonous to both plants and animals. Like particulates, sulphur dioxide irritates the respiratory tract, causing airways to close, and interfering with the lungs. Children and the elderly are especially sensitive to sulphur dioxide, as are people suffering from asthma and emphysema.

Lead & other heavy metals

Lead is dangerous, even at low concentrations and can lead to reduced intelligence in children, brain damage and death. It accumulates in the body and damages body tissue.

Ground Level Ozone

Ozone in the upper atmosphere shields us from ultraviolet radiation. However on ground level, it is highly toxic to both plants and animals as it can damage lungs. It can bring on coughing, asthma attacks and lower the immune system.

Fuel wood

Indoor air pollution is caused by the burning of fuel-wood and dung for cooking, and can cause suffocation.

Sources of Air pollution

Motor vehicles

The two main sources of air pollution are motor vehicles & industries. When they burn petrol, cars and trucks release significant quantities of sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, lead, and suspended particulate matter. Lead used in petrol to protect engines is also dangerous. Diesel powered cars produce large quantities of particulates in the form of black soot. Reduced use of private cars, proper legislation and enforcement of laws can curb this menace.


Electrical power plants and industries emit particulate matter, sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and carbon dioxides.

The top three industrial sources of toxic air pollutants are the chemical, metal, and paper industries.

Municipal Solid Waste

When solid waste is burnt, heavy metals like lead, gases and soot are spread over residential areas. Rubbish, dust and gases found during the decomposition of waste, all contribute to air pollution.


When air pollution in urban areas reduces visibility it is often called smog. There are different types of smog. Smoke pollution from industries is sometimes called industrial smog. The pollutants it contains are sulphur oxides and particulates. Photochemical smog is a brownish orange haze formed by chemical reactions involving sunlight.

Medical waste

Burning medical waste is a serious source of air pollution, particularly in cities. Most incinerators are rudimentary by today's standards. They burn waste incompletely, releasing acidic gases, heavy metals, and dioxins into the air.

Developing countries

As developing countries become more industrialised, they also produce more air pollution. The leaders of most developing countries believe they must become industrialised rapidly in order to be economically competitive. Environmental quality is usually a low priority in the race to develop. Thus, while air quality is slowly improving in developed countries, it is rapidly deteriorating in developing countries.

Improving the well being of developing nations does not have to result in increased pollution. The key to future development lies in providing the products and services which people want by using the most efficient technologies, and consuming the lowest possible level of resources.

How does air pollution affect us?

Exposure to low levels of pollutants such as ozone, sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and particulates, irritates eyes and causes inflammation of the respiratory tract. Evidence exists that many air pollutants also suppress the immune system, increasing susceptibility to infection. In addition, evidence continues to accumulate indicating that exposure to air pollution during respiratory illnesses may result in people developing chronic respiratory diseases, such as emphysema and bronchitis as they get older. Other health problems that can result from long-term exposure to toxic air-pollutants are cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, respiratory infections, and cardiovascular disease.

Air pollution can also cause acidification of lakes and soils and impacts on crop productivity, forest growth, and biodiversity. Some research indicates that the ozone and sulphur dioxide is reducing crop yields. The potential for crop losses in Asia has been indicated by a study in Pakistan where a 40 per cent reduction in rice yields was linked to the presence of pollutants in the air.

What can we do?

Quality Standards

According to the same Act, the function of the Federal Agency shall be to take all necessary measures for the protection, conservation, rehabilitation and improvement of the environment, prevention and control of pollution, and promotion of sustainable development.

Water Pollution Factsheet

Water is polluted when it contains materials that make it unsuitable for a given use

The story so far:

Fresh water is fundamental to the survival of humans and most other land-based life forms.

Ninety seven per cent of the earth's water is the salt water of oceans and seas. Most of the remaining 3 per cent is in polar ice caps, glaciers, the atmosphere or underground and hard to reach. Only 0.4 per cent is available for use. This water supply is maintained by water evaporating from oceans and lakes and then falling to the earth as rain in a process called the 'water cycle'.

However, growing population, increased economic activity and industrialisation has resulted in an increased demand for fresh water. In addition, rapid urbanisation is changing patterns of consumption. This has caused a severe misuse of water resources. Discharging untreated sewage and chemical wastes directly into rivers, lakes and drains has become a traditional habit. Water bodies can no longer cope with the increasing pollution load.
In Pakistan, water is mainly used for industrial, agricultural and domestic purposes.
The following table shows its percentage consumption for every use.

Purpose Percentage

Agriculture 69%
Industry 23%
Domestic uses 8%

Since most water is being used by the agricultural sector, irrigation can cause waterlogging and salinity. This happens when the water table rises close to the surface of the soil. If plants do not use this water, it evaporates, leaving salts behind. Even in uncultivated, barren lands, a water table within 2 meters of the surface can cause salinity in the soil. If irrigation water containing high levels of contaminants evaporates, it can result in damage to the soil.

The Punjab province draws its major share of drinking water from the natural ground water aquifer. Groundwater becomes contaminated when chemicals from surface water seep into soil and come in contact with the flowing groundwater. The movement of groundwater is through open spaces in soil and rock layers, which is usually very slow, indicating a very low dilution of contaminants. According to WHO, groundwater of Lahore up to 700-ft deep has been seriously contaminated and should not be used for human consumption. In 1989, pollution was found to a depth of 300-ft, and to 500-ft in 1992.

Sources of surface and ground water pollution

Municipal Sewage

Municipal sewage is a major source of pollution. About 2 million wet tonnes of human excreta are annually produced in the urban sector of which around 50% go into water bodies to pollute them. National Conservation Strategy (NCS) states that almost 40% of deaths are related to water borne diseases.

Domestic wastewater collects on the streets and in low-lying areas. The situation is further aggravated by the addition of untreated wastes from small-scale industries.

In Pakistan, drinking water supply lines and open sewage drains in the streets are laid side by side. As a result, water is frequently contaminated when pipes erode. Most main sewers are between 30-50ft below ground level and are made of 10ft cement sections linked without proper safety seals. Poor connections combined with deteriorating low quality sewer pipes cause a lot of leakage. This outflow from sewer mixes with the water table and the contamination is carried to deeper levels. Hence the ground water which is considered safe becomes adulterated with everything from PCBs, lead, cyanides, mercury, solvents, hydrocarbon compounds, hospital and pharmaceutical industry waste.

Ravi teems with toxic industrial effluent and untreated domestic sewage as soon as it enters Pakistan. This has made it literally a large open sewer.


Industrial wastewater contains toxic chemicals. It is alarming that most industries have been started without proper planning and waste treatment plants. They just dispose of untreated toxic waste into nearby drains, canals or rivers. Lahore, Faisalabad, Karachi, Sialkot contribute major pollution loads into their water bodies.

According to an EPD source, 9000 million gallons of wastewater having 20,000 tons of BOD5 loading are daily discharged into water bodies from the industrial sector. Automobile service stations are another major contributor to surface water pollution. Untreated oil, grease and dirt find its way into nearby canals and rivers where it damages the ecosystem.

Landfills & Leaching

Leaching is the process where chemicals from a material dissolve into water while it is being filtered through that material. The resulting mixture is called leachate consisting of residues from decomposed organic matter and metals.

Major contributors to leachate are municipal solid waste, hospital waste, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, stagnant ponds, toxic industrial waste, and sewage. Rusting cans, discarded batteries and appliances, paints, pesticides, cleaning fluids, newspaper inks, and other chemicals may also add to the toxic mixture of leachate.


Excessive and uncontrolled use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides promotes contaminated agricultural run off. This not only pollutes the surface drains but the water trickling down to lower layers of soil causes a severe contamination of the natural aquifer. Over abstraction of groundwater prompts recharge from the surface water drains, which themselves are severely contaminated.

Water pollution and humans

The WHO reports that 25-30% of all hospital admissions are connected to water borne bacterial and parasitic conditions, with 60% of infant deaths caused by water infections.

The long-term effects on human health of pesticides and other pollutants include colon and bladder cancer, miscarriage, birth defects, deformation of bones, and sterility.

Contamination of fresh water with radionuclides, which can result from mining, testing, disposal and manufacturing of radioactive material, as well as transportation accidents, has led to increased incidences of cancer, developmental abnormalities and death.

Cesspools of stagnant dirty water, both in rural and urban areas, account for a large number of deaths caused by potentially fatal diseases like cholera, malaria, dysentery and typhoid.

Nitrate concentration in water above 45mg/l makes it unfit for drinking by infants. The nitrates are reduced in body to nitrites and cause a serious blood condition called the "Blue Baby Syndrome". Higher concentrations of nitrate causes gastric cancer.

Untreated and highly toxic industrial sewage is also used for irrigation near major cities. This can contaminate crops and consequently affect consumers.

Water pollution and the environment

Karachi'suntreated wastewater from domestic sewage and industrial estates is discharged into the Layari and Malir rivers, which fall into the Arabian Sea. This waste has begun to pose a serious threat to the marine environment, as the channel water is contaminated not only with bacteria but also with toxic chemicals.

Water pollution also extends a savage threat to wildlife of Pakistan. Animals drink water out of polluted water bodies, ailing ponds, rivers and streams. This sickens the animals and some may even die. Oil spills kill thousands of fish in oceans. Extreme pollution of river Ravi has destroyed the once existing 42 species of fish and the bird life around the river has migrated to other areas. Survival of small invertebrates, micro fauna and flora is also threatened.

What can be done?

Persistent Organic Pollutants Factsheet

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are carbon-based chemical compounds and mixtures, that include industrial chemicals, pesticides like DDT, and unwanted byproducts like Dioxins. Most POPs are products and by-products of human industry and are of relatively recent origin.

The story so far:

Concern is growing about POPs because they accumulate in body fat and in the environment. The problem is worse in colder climates as they breakdown more slowly at lower temperatures. As they can be transported through both air and sea, the problem of POPs crosses national boundaries. Traces of these chemicals can be found in most human beings and all kinds of wildlife, even in isolated parts of the globe. Although most POPs are produced during the manufacture of pesticides and other chlorinated substances, others are formed unintentionally due to incomplete combustion. Food is the main way POPs enter our bodies. There are many old stockpiles of pesticides that leak, leach, and evaporate into the air causing harmful effects to the environment. POPs are banned in most countries because of their harmful effects. Despite this they are still being used as pesticides in many countries.

POPs- The dirty dozen Of the many existing POPs, the following twelve are currently being studied:

How do POPs affect us?

POPs create risks which cannot be managed, so they must be eliminated. The United Nations has called them 'a serious threat to human health'. Disruption of hormones in humans and wildlife can be caused by POPs, and they are associated with an increase in disorders of the reproductive organs. POPs are associated in particular with impacts on women such as breast cancer. Babies are exposed to POPs in the womb, with risks to their potential and future quality of life. POPs have been classified as contaminants of human milk since 1996.

How do POPs reach us?

Food is the main way POPs can enter our bodies. As they are soluble in fat and not easily broken down in the body, they accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals and humans. As one animal eats another, the level of POPs in fat increases. This means that the highest levels are found in predator animals at the top of the food chain, such as polar bear, seals, toothed whales, birds of prey, and humans.

Impact on the environment

All aspects of the environment can become contaminated by POPs. For instance, spraying pesticides containing POPs on to crops contaminates vegetation and soils, discharges from factories making POPs contaminates rivers, and if smoke which is released from incinerators and factories, contains POPs it contaminates the air.

POP pesticides were introduced in Pakistan in the 1950s when the federal government began importing DDT and BHC for malaria control and agriculture. Later, large qualities of Dieldrin and Aldrin were also added to the list. When, in the mid-to-late 1970s, the pesticide business was privatized and multinationals entered the market, imports of all pesticides increased even further. This has resulted in a situation where degrading stockpiles of extremely hazardous pesticides are littered across the country.

Officially, all POP pesticides except Chlordane are banned for use and import, with BYHC being banned in 1997. However, in April 1998, Greenpeace as able to confirm the availability of pesticides marketed as Dieldrin, DDT, BHC and heptachlor.

What can we do?


Improved coordination between north and south and other regional blocks is needed to promote a strong and effective treaty leading to the elimination of existing POPs and the adoption of the precautionary principle for future POPs. Currently, inter-governmental negotiations are being held to draft a legally binding document to address the twelve Priority POPs. Developed countries, influenced by industry, are striving for a weak treaty.

Educational programs

As there is lack of public awareness, educational programs should start to help people gain more knowledge about the harmful effects of POPs.
Minimising releases and emissions
The discharge, manufacture and use of the twelve POPs mentioned earlier should be eliminated.

Hospital Waste Factsheet

Hospital Waste Management means the management of waste produced by hospitals using such techniques that will help to check the spread of diseases through it.

The story so far:

The management of waste poses to be a major problem in most of the countries, especially hospital waste. It is an ongoing problem for many countries. In recent years, medical waste disposal has posed even more difficulties with the appearance of disposable needles, syringes, and other similar items. Pakistan is also facing this problem. Around 250,000 tonnes of medical waste is annually produced from all sorts of health care facilities in the country. This type of waste has a bad affect on the environment by contaminating the land, air and water resources.

According to a report, 15 tonnes of waste is produced daily in Punjab. The rate of generation is 1.8 kilograms per day per bed. The province houses 250 hospitals with a total capacity of 41,000 beds.

Different Types

Hospital wastes are categorised according to their weight, density and constituents. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified medical waste into different categories. These are:


material-containing pathogens in sufficient concentrations or quantities that, if exposed, can cause diseases. This includes waste from surgery and autopsies on patients with infectious diseases;


disposable needles, syringes, saws, blades, broken glasses, nails or any other item that could cause a cut;


tissues, organs, body parts, human flesh, fetuses, blood and body fluids;


drugs and chemicals that are returned from wards, spilled, outdated, contaminated, or are no longer required;


solids, liquids and gaseous waste contaminated with radioactive substances used in diagnosis and treatment of diseases like toxic goiter; and


waste from the offices, kitchens, rooms, including bed linen, utensils, paper, etc.


There are Guidelines for Hospital Waste Management In Pakistan since 1998 prepared by the Environmental Health Unit, of the Ministry of Health, Government of Pakistan, giving detailed information and covering all aspects of safe hospital waste management in the country, including the risk associated with the waste, formation of a waste management team in hospitals, their responsibilities, plan, collection, segregation, transportation, storage, disposal methods, containers, and their color coding, waste minimisation techniques, protective clothing, etc.

A project was implemented in January, 2000 in the biggest hospital in every province by the Ministry of Health in Islamabad, in collaboration with WHO.

Improper disposal

Hospitals and public health care units are supposed to safeguard the health of the community. However, the waste produced by the medical care centers if disposed off improperly, can pose an even greater threat than the original diseases themselves.

Pakistan is also facing such problems. There are no systematic approaches to medical waste disposal. Hospital wastes are simply mixed with the municipal waste in collecting bins at roadsides and disposed off similarly. Some waste is simply buried without any appropriate measure. The reality is that while all the equipment necessary to ensure the proper management of hospital waste probably exists, the main problem is that the staff fails to prepare and implement an effective disposable policy.

In Lahore, like most of the cities in Pakistan, there are no proper measures taken for the management of hospital waste. The standard practice of hospital waste disposal is dumping it in the M.C.L. container wherever situated.

Disposable syringes and needles are also not disposed off properly. Some patients, who routinely use syringes at home, do not know how to dispose them off properly. They just throw them in a dustbin or other similar places, because they think that these practices are inexpensive, safe, and easy solution to dispose off a potentially dangerous waste item.

How does hospital waste affect us?

If hospital waste is not managed properly it proves to be harmful to the environment. It not only poses a threat to the employees working in the hospital, but also to the people surrounding that area.

Infectious waste can cause diseases like Hepatitis A & B, AIDS, Typhoid, Boils, etc.

A common practice in Pakistan is the reuse of disposable syringes. People pick up used syringes from the hospital waste and sell them. Many drug addicts also reuse the syringes that can cause AIDS and other dangerous and contagious diseases. If a syringe, previously used by an AIDS patient, is reused, it can affect the person using it. So, the hospital staff should dispose off the syringes properly, by cutting the needles of the syringes with the help of a cutter, so that the needle ca not be reused.

When waste containing plastics are burnt, Dioxin is produced, which can cause Cancer, birth defects, decreased psychomotor ability, hearing defects, cognitive defects and behavioral alternations in infants.

Flies also sit on the uncovered piles of rotting garbage. This promotes mechanical transmissions of fatal diseases like Diarrhea, Dysentery, Typhoid, Hepatitis and Cholera. Under moist conditions, mosquitoes transmit many types of infections, like Malaria and Yellow fever. Similarly, dogs, cats and rats also transmit a variety of diseases, including Plague and Flea born fever, as they mostly live in and around the refuse. A high tendency of contracting intestinal, parasitic and skin diseases is found in workers engaged in collecting refuse.


Some steps should be taken for the minimisation of hospital waste. Before any clear improvement can be made in medical waste management, consistent and scientifically based definitions must be established as to what is meant by medical waste and its components, and what the goals are. Plans and policies should be laid down for this purpose. Then the waste should be segregated. Imposing segregated practices within hospitals to separate biological and chemical hazardous waste will result in a clean solid waste stream, which can be recycled easily. If proper segregation is achieved through training, clear standards, and tough enforcement, then resources can be turned to the management of the small portion of the waste stream needing special treatment.

New emphasis should be put on the reduction of waste, workers' safety should be ensured through education, training and proper personal protective equipment.

Incinerators: a solution or a threat?

Incineration has been the treatment method of choice for medical waste for two important reasons. First, incineration has always been thought to be the best method of eliminating any infectious organisms that are present in medical waste. Second, incineration has been economical for hospitals because it substantially reduces the volume to be disposed of in a landfill. Waste disposal costs have historically been based on the volume to be disposed. Both of these assumptions behind medical waste incineration are no longer able to support objective scrutiny. Waste is burnt at very high temperatures, that produce emissions full of acidic gases, heavy metals, toxic organisms and dioxins. There is a lot of ash produced by an incinerator as well.

Incinerators for medical and municipal waste have been linked to severe public health threats and pollution. The combination of intense public opposition to incineration and increasingly strict environmental pollution regulation has forced the closure or cancellation of many incinerators in industrialised countries.

Incinerators are fast becoming an obsolete technology in many developed countries as they are moving towards safer and more economical alternative approaches to medical and municipal waste management.

As a result, many incinerator companies are targeting overseas markets where people are not yet aware of the serious health and environmental threats associated with incineration or the many advantages of alternatives. Incinerator companies are now targeting Asia, Africa, and Latin America to sell their toxic technology. Researchers came to the conclusion that Dioxin, as well as mercury and other toxic substances, are emitted when waste is burnt in an incinerator. Dioxin and related chlorinated organic compounds are extremely potent toxic substances that produce a remarkable variety of adverse effects in human and animals at extremely low doses.

Mercury is also bio-accumulative and is toxic to the kidneys and nervous system. Readily converted to its organic form in the environment, mercury interferes with normal brain development.

Techniques to be used

Various alternative technologies for incineration are available at hospitals in many developed countries. As these techniques are either too complicated or very expensive, they are not being used in Pakistan. Though, these techniques should also be applied here,, for proper waste disposal.


Steam Autoclaving

Steam Autoclaving is the most widely used and most efficient alternative medical-waste-treatment technology. Most available autoclaves are designed to handle both biohazard and normal hospital wastes simultaneously. However, they cannot treat pathological animal wastes, chemotherapy wastes, and low level radioactive wastes. These wastes have to be treated separately.

Medical waste autoclaves usually jointly operate with a shredder, and a compactor(to minimise the waste volume).

In autoclaves, the effects of heat from saturated steam and increased pressure decontaminate medical waste by inactivating and destroying microorganisms.

There are two types of autoclaves, gravity displacement and pre-vacuum. Those designed for medical waste are mostly pre-vacuum.

Chemical Treatment

In chemical treatment systems, an anti-microbial chemical, such as sodium hypochlorite, chlorine dioxide, or peracetic acid, decontaminates the medical waste. Most chemical treatment systems, currently in use, operate at ambient temperature.

Microwave Radiation

In Microwave Radiation, medical waste enters the system by batch or continuous mode, where it is wetted with steam or water and heated by microwave radiation at de-contaminating temperatures.

Other Thermal Systems

Some systems use a combination of infrared radiation and forced hot-air convection to treat the waste. The waste then is compacted, preparing it for landfill. Other systems use gamma radiation to heat the waste to disinfecting temperatures. A portion of the solid residue obtained is recycled, while the remainder is disposed. Several other thermal systems currently under development use steam, oil, electricity or some form of radiation as their source of heat.

Disposal of Pathological waste

As mentioned above, Pathological waste (body parts, research animals, etc.) cannot be disposed off by autoclaving. For disposal of such waste, either Crematoria (burning of the body) or burial should be performed.


The hospital staff should be trained in such a manner that they help in disposing off the waste properly.

Municipal Solid Waste Factsheet

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is useless or unwanted material discarded as a result of human or animal activity. Most commonly it is solids, semisolids or liquids in containers thrown out of houses, commercial or industrial premises.

Municipal Solid Waste Management (MSWM) is the generation, separation, collection, transfer, transportation and disposal of waste in a way that takes into account public health, economics, conservation, aesthetics, and the environment, and is responsive to public demands.

The story so far:

Changing lifestyles, the increasing use of disposable materials and excessive packaging are all contributing to an increase in the amount of waste being created. Waste management is now a global concern. The problems associated with MSW management are complex because of the quantity and diversity of the nature of waste and financial limitations on public services in large cities. The problem is not only confined to land, it includes air and water as well.

The problem in Pakistan

Solid waste generation in Pakistan ranges between 0.283 to 0.612 kg/capita/day and the waste generation growth rate is 2.4% per year (Draft Environmental Assessment Report, Stockholm, November 1993).

Solid domestic waste is typically dumped on low-lying land. Then it is burnt to reduce its volume and lengthen the life span of the dumpsite. However, refuse does not burn well and smouldering dumps produce clouds of smoke that can be seen from miles away, smell bad, and create a breeding ground for flies and rats. The result is unsightly and unsanitary conditions. This land could be used for more productive purposes and potentially valuable recyclable materials are lost.

Sources of MSW

Houses: Appliances, newspapers, clothing, disposable tableware, food packaging, cans, bottles, food scraps, yard trimming.

Commercial buildings: Corrugated boxes, food wastes, office paper, and disposable tableware.

Institutions: Office paper, cafeteria and restroom waste, classroom wastes, yard trimmings.

Industries: Corrugated boxes, lunchroom wastes, and office papers, wood pallets.

Components of MSW

High-grade paper: Office and computer paper

Mixed Paper: Mixed coloured papers, magazines, glossy paper, and other paper, not fitting the categories of high grade paper, newsprint, and corrugated.

Newsprint: Newspaper

Corrugated: Corrugated boxes, corrugated and brown (craft) paper

Yard Waste: Branches, twigs, leaves, grass and other plant material

Food Waste: All food waste excluding bones

Glass: Clear and coloured glass

Plastics: All types of plastics

Ferrous metals: Iron, steel, and tin and metal cans

Non-ferrous metals: Primarily Aluminium, Aluminium cans, copper, brass and lead

Wood: Lumber, wood products, pallets and furniture

Rubber: Tyres, footwear, wire cords, gaskets

Textiles: Furniture, clothing, and footwear

Miscellaneous: Other organic and inorganic materials, including rock, sand, dirt, ceramics, plaster, bones ashes, etc.

Collection methods

Hauled Container System

Containers loaded with MSW are taken to the disposal site, emptied and brought back to the same site or to the next site. In Pakistan, the container is mostly transported from one place to another with the help of a truck or tractor.

Stationary Container System

In this system, the containers are emptied into vehicles, so a number of containers can be emptied in one trip.


Residential wastes are usually collected and transported directly to a landfill site. When new landfills are being planned, the most important issue is to find a location that is acceptable to the public and to local regulatory agencies. In the management of existing landfills, the major concern is to ensure that proper operational procedures are followed carefully and routinely.

In the past, the term sanitary landfill was used to describe landfill where the waste was covered at the end of each day's operation. Today, sanitary landfill refers to an engineered facility, designed and operated to minimise public health and environmental impacts.

Problems with landfill:

Landfills are subject to biological and physical factors in the environment. As a result, they change over time and may cause the following problems:

The separation of solid waste components is one of the most positive and effective ways to recover and reuse materials.

Size Reduction

Size reduction is a process in which collected waste materials are mechanically reduced in size. In practice, the terms shredding, grinding, and milling are used interchangeably to describe mechanical size reduction. The objective of size reduction is to obtain a final product that is reasonably uniform and considerably reduced in size in comparison with its original form.


Screening is used to separate mixtures of materials of different sizes into two or more sizes by using screening surfaces.

Many new technologies have been developed to solve MSW problems, but unfortunately, these technologies are either too sophisticated or expensive for use in developing countries like Pakistan.

How does MSW affect us?

Improper disposal of MSW has serious results for the environment and human health. Problems can spread over a wide area. For example disposal of wastes into nallahs, canals and rivers can pollute the water supply along the whole length of the watercourse. Infections and diseases can spread from dump sites into the general population.

Health Hazards

Ground water pollution

The most serious problem is groundwater contamination. As water filters through any material, chemicals in the material may dissolve in the water, a process called leaching. The resulting mixture is called leachate. As water percolates through MSW, it makes a leachate that consists of decomposing organic matter combined with iron, mercury, lead, zinc, and other metals from rusting cans, discarded batteries and appliances. It may also contain paints, pesticides, cleaning fluids, newspaper inks, and other chemicals. Contaminated water can have a serious impact on all living creatures, including humans, in an ecosystem.

Air pollution

When waste is burnt heavy metals like lead, toxic gases and smoke spreads over residential areas. The wind also carries waste, dust and gases caused by decomposition. Putrefaction of waste in sunlight during daytime results in bad smells and reduced visibility.

The solution

There is an urgent need to manage MSW from the time it is created to its safe disposal. The public and local municipal authorities need to work together. It is important to create awareness about the consequences of pollution so that people become conscious of the need to deal with this problem.


According to a World Bank report, Pakistan has responded to its environmental problems by developing laws, establishing Government agencies and accepting technical assistance from donors, including the World Bank. Despite this, the response remains fragmented and environmental institutions, laws, and other initiatives do not solve the whole problem.

Environmental legislation is still not well developed in Pakistan, especially in comparison to the developed world. For example, there are no national quality standards for MSW.

Install waste disposal facilities

Currently, individuals dispose off wastes by throwing away plastic bags, wrappers, fruit peels, cigarette butts, etc. in public places. Littering spreads pollution and ends up clogging drains and causing sanitation problems. This can be controlled by making roadside dustbins or proper disposal of waste at home. If proper waste management is practiced, this waste could be converted into useful products.


The best way to reduce waste is not to produce it in the first place. Everyone should try to reduce his/her consumption of goods as much as possible. For example, choose products with minimum packaging and instead of accepting plastic bags when shopping, use cloth bags.


Items should not just be thrown away after use if they can be used again. Doing this results in a reduction in waste and better conservation of resources. Items, which can be re-used, include glass jars and bottles, and plastic bags.


Recycling means creating new things from used items. Almost 20-30 per cent of MSW contains materials which could be recycled. For instance: