By Zubeida Mustafa
HOW many of Pakistan’s 225 million like to habitually connect with nature? Unsurprisingly, not many. Most of the urban population lives in man-made subhuman conditions while those in the villages lead a brutish life of want imposed on them by feudal leaders. Not being educated, people are unaware of their own rights, let alone the significance of the environment.
Against this backdrop, to publish the magazine Wildlife & Environment with the avowed objective of creating awareness about nature is indeed a “herculean task”. That is how the editor/founder of this quarterly, Khurshid Ali, describes his undertaking.
The general indifference to the environment is something quite expected. And Khurshid Ali, to his credit, is not bitter about this oblivion. But his friends resent it. They call him an ‘unsung hero’ whose work is not acknowledged. Hence the failed ‘promises of profits’. The fact is that true commitment is not valued in monetary terms.
Khurshid Ali explains his unconcern for fame and money by saying that a love of nature has been in his genes. His family came from Amroha which was a centre of fruit and vegetable cultivation in India. On migration to Pakistan, they settled in Malir which was once the fruit basket of Karachi. In his youth, he had plenty of opportunity to soak in the beauty and calm of the environment.
Human development needs an integrated approach.
The magazine he launched in 1992 was his brainchild and he has done it virtually single-handedly on what amounts to a pittance. It is a labour of love. Before he starts work on an issue he sends out scores of emails requesting parties for advertisements. No one responds but he carries on with minimal support. His readership? Very “specialised and influential”, he says, mainly the establishment such as the navy, the army (at one time), some university libraries, etc.
But any publication that draws its clout from such sources would inevitably face challenges of another kind. It cannot be critical of the hand that apparently feeds it. Small wonder that nowhere are the powers that be held accountable for the excesses, action and inaction that hurt the environment. The ills are identified clearly but it is left to the readers to guess who is at fault.
As an environment magazine, this is an elegant and eclectic publication. It is informative, profusely illustrated, as it should be, and beautifully laid out but technology has played tricks by joining up words randomly.
Khurshid Ali identifies a number of environmental ills that plague Pakistan, such as climate change and the melting of the glaciers, air pollution, the contamination of our rivers, water scarcity, deforestation, and so on. But there is no criticism of the official agencies. And this stance can be carried to extremes. Thus he defends the Arab sheikh’s killing of “a few” houbara bustards for sport although these birds are a protected species. He blames the critics of having “a hidden agenda” of concealing the fact that the “sheikhs of Abu Dhabi have spent billions of dollars on the uplift of the people of Cholistan. The Sheikh’s Rehabilitation Centre isn’t just an eyewash. It is something wholesome”.
It may be so but many will ask why that would give the sheikhs the right to hunt down houbara bustards — at times in larger numbers than their permits entitle them to.
The problem with this approach to the environment and wildlife is that issues are pigeonholed and there is no attempt to connect them. It is not a holistic perspective; it is one that finds little connection between the state of the environment and the Covid-19 pandemic or between the hunting of a ‘few’ houbaras by Arab sheikhs and the extermination of the species.
But now it is better known that human development calls for an integrated approach. The pandemic reminds me of Thomas Malthus and his Essay on the Principle of Population that he wrote and revised six times between 1798 and 1826. I reread it digitally when a reader reminded me of it. I had read it earlier in the population context. But it now appears to be equally relevant to the environment.
Malthus believed that the population grows in geometric proportions when food production increases arithmetically. There comes a time when agriculture fails to sustain the population. Then a section of the population is reduced to poverty and is in distress. There comes a time when disaster and events such as wars, disease and food shortages reduce the population and restore the balance. The process keeps repeating itself.
Were Malthus alive today, he would certainly have included the environment among the factors that sustain the human race. It is plain that man’s abuse of the environment has reached the point of no return. The earth has reacted saying ‘enough is enough’. We will have to wait and see at which point and how this struggle between man and the environment will end and the balance is restored.