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[ISLAMABAD] Brownfield redevelopment or restoration of environmentally degraded, idled and abandoned urban lands can help urban sustainability in Pakistan but is being held back by myriad roadblocks, scientists from China and Pakistan find in a new study.

The UN Environment Programme considers brownfield redevelopment among 21 top issues that need to be addressed to meet the challenges of global sustainability in the 21st century. Among the typical brownfield sites are abandoned railroads, chemical storage facilities, and steel and heavy manufacturing sites.

Published this month (March) in the Journal of Cleaner Production, the new study identifies Pakistan-specific barriers to restoring vast tracts of environmentally degraded urban sites that can help the country achieve UN-led sustainable development goals related to poverty alleviation, sustainable cities, health and access to water and sanitation.  

“Though it is a first brownfield redevelopment study on any developing country, the findings have a viable scope for any other developing country to achieve urban sustainability, particularly in South Asia and Asia-Pacific regions marked by unsustainable urbanisation”

Yuming Zhu, Northwestern Polytechnical University

The barriers cited include absence of law and regulation, unsustainability of government policies, lack of policy incentives, technical personnel, funds and repair technology, difficulties in waste disposal, insufficient site studies, lack of lesson learnt from other countries and insufficient environmental information.

Naveed Ahmed, lead study author and researcher at the School of Management, Northwestern Polytechnical University, Xi'an, China, tells SciDev.Net that dismantling barriers to reclaiming discarded urban land sites would require the South Asian country to “invest in academic and policy research and mobilise technology and capacity-building programmes”.

According to Ahmed, to help attain urban environmental sustainability, pollution-safe urban lands, and improve public health and well-being of the country, it must take into consideration existing and innovative solutions such as urban forestry and public parks, wastewater remediation, solar and appropriate technologies on housing. 

“Though it is a first brownfield redevelopment study on any developing country, the findings have a viable scope for any other developing country to achieve urban sustainability, particularly in South Asia and Asia-Pacific regions marked by unsustainable urbanisation,” study co-author Yuming Zhu, professor at the Northwestern Polytechnical University’s School of Management, tells SciDev.Net.

Noman Ahmed, professor and dean, faculty of architecture and management sciences at the Karachi-based NED University of Engineering and Technology, says that “implementing brownfield redevelopment projects in land reclamation, restoration of environmentally degraded land sites, wastewater recycling and reuse, rainwater harvesting, urban air pollution, solid waste management and water and sanitation sectors are direly needed for achieving sustainability in Pakistani cities and towns”. Jawed Ali Khan, programme manager in Islamabad for the UN-Habitat’s Sustainable Human Settlements Programme, says the country is expected to largely shift from majority rural to majority urban within 20 years because of paced urbanisation at three per cent annually.  

“Reclaiming environmentally degraded, contaminated and abandoned land sites through brownfield redevelopment strategy to accommodate the growing urban population with sustained provision of basic amenities is a viable strategy,” Khan tells SciDev.Net.

According to Khan, environmental degradation costs Pakistan nearly US$800 billion annually. But once the harmful effects of contaminated, vacant or derelict sites are overcome by redevelopment, they can be used for setting up health centres, education facilities and housing units.
 
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.