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Author: Salman Shah

Abdul Akbar’s fields have become barren and his finances have become very thin. He says that just a few years ago “his land was flowing with gold” and he made a prosperous living out of it raising rich crops of wheat and tobacco. But now, he says a poison has been added to the local water which has destroyed his fertile land.

He is a resident of Chagharzai Tehsil of North Buner District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and says that the reason for this disaster is dozens of marble factories established in his area. According to him, the chemical waste from these factories has polluted a local river called Barndu to such an extent that its water has become deadly for flora and fauna.

He is 62 years old and says that until recently there was such an abundance of fish in this river that people eager to catch them used to come here in large numbers for this purpose. Similarly, according to him, when local landowners needed water to irrigate their crops in the absence of rains, they “diverted the river to their lands”.

But he laments that now aquatic life is not even found in Barndu and the landowners cannot even think of irrigating their crops.

Another resident of Chagharzai, Azmat Ullah, 37, has been fishing from the river since childhood but says “I have not caught a single fish from here in the last two years”. Explaining the reason for this change, he says that the crystal-clear water of Barndu has now turned into a thick milky foam “in which no living thing can survive”.

Like Abdul Akbar, Azmat Ullah also believes that the cause of this problem is the local marble factories. He says, “After 2015, the number of these factories has increased rapidly, but during this time, there is no arrangement for proper disposal of the chemicals released from them, instead they are flowing into the local rivers without any prevention. Being allowed to join the local streams”.

Syed Kausar Saeed, a teacher at the University of Buner, a government-run educational institution, confirms this by saying that the water sources of Buner district have become dangerously polluted due to these factories. He wrote a research paper in 2011 examining the impact of the marble industry on the water of the local rivers, in which he said that in the 1990s, 13 species of fish were found in the Barndu river, but today not even a single type of fish is found.

Dr. Mohammad Nafees, Head of the Environment Department of another higher educational institution of the government sector, University of Peshawar, also says the same. According to them, on the one hand, in the process of extracting marble from the mountains, cutting it and making different products from it, a huge amount of stone particles and dust get into the air and become a big threat to the health and growth of humans, animals and plants. On the other hand, large amounts of water and many chemicals are used to mold marble rocks into various products.

He says that this mixture of used water and chemicals leaves the factories in the form of a milky liquid and settles in the bottom of nearby rivers, which not only discolors their water, but also stiffens in the soil of fertile land to render them completely useless. According to him, “this water causes severe damage to the gills of the fish, so they cannot survive in it”. Similarly, “if cattle drink this water, the taste of their milk changes and the land irrigated by it gradually becomes barren”.

About 400 marble factories are operating in different parts of Buner district, out of which 95% are located in Chagharzai Tehsil alone.

Abdul Akbar says that in 2017, together with many local people, he held several protests against the dumping of waste from these factories into the rivers. According to him, “As a result of these protests, the then Deputy Commissioner of Bonaire ordered the factory owners not to let their waste go outside but to build tanks to collect it inside their premises”. But he says that “none of the factory owners complied with the official order and the administration did not take any action against anyone for violating the order”.
On the other hand, Gul Roz Khan, vice-president of the factory owners’ organization, Buner Marble Association, suggests another solution to the problem. Admitting that the public complaints about polluted water from the factories are very valid, he says that the only way to address them is to consolidate all the marble factories across the district and form a marble city. so that “all the water coming out of them can be collected in one place and safely disposed of”.

He reveals that in 2018, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had planned to establish such a marble city on an area of ​​1,52 canals in an area called Bampokha Clay of Salarzai Tehsil and allocated Rs 50 crore for it in the provincial budget of 2019-20. Also allocated. But he says that “the work could not be started due to the opposition of the local people as their agricultural lands were coming under the project”.
However, former Assistant Commissioner of Buner Latifur Rahman says that the local administration had convinced the people of Bampokha Clay to give land for Marble City through a Jirga. But even so, the work could not be started because, according to him, there was a severe water shortage in the area as marble factories require a lot of water during their work.

Dr. Muhammad Nafees also believes that the establishment of a marble city can save the natural and aquatic environment of Chagharzai from destruction. According to him, its establishment will not only facilitate the collection of waste from all the factories operating in one place, but it can also be “collected and made into construction materials”. Therefore, he says that if it is not possible to establish a marble city in Bampokha Clay, “it is very important to choose another place for it immediately”.

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