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[PESHAWAR] Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which borders Afghanistan is seeing a rise in environmental pollution but lacks the infrastructure and proper legal mechanisms to deal with it.
The country's environment protection agency (EPA), set up in 1997 to oversee environment-related projects, has only 73 employees in the province and they are mostly deployed in Peshawar district which houses the provincial capital.
“We have offices in the Abbottabad, Swat, and Dera Ismail Khan districts but they stopped operations after relevant projects ended in June,” EPA’s director-general Bashir Ahmed tells SciDev.Net.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is in the process of enacting its own environmental protection law in accordance with the 18th constitutional amendment passed in April 2010 to devolve the work of the federal environment ministry to the provinces.  
The new provincial law will have mechanisms to address climate change, bio-safety, electronic waste, greenhouse gases and other environmental issues, Ahmed says. 
Despite limited resources, the EPA has, over the last 10 years, booked 670 cases of violation at an environmental tribunal and also issued over 1,600 environmental protection orders, he says.
Other measures taken by the existing EPA include setting up pollution control models in different parts of the province to minimise hazards from brick kilns, steel mills and marble and stone-crushing units, Ahmed says.
While the agency has imposed penalties and collected fines from violators of environmental laws, its efforts are not considered satisfactory by local experts.  
Javid Khan, a professor at the environmental science department of the University of Peshawar, tells SciDev.Net that the EPA needs to urgently address faulty drainage systems and deal with the improper disposal of biomedical and industrial waste.
"The absence of proper offices has hindered plans," Khan says, adding that successive governments have ignored environmental issues.
One consequence of the high levels of uncontrolled pollution in the province is a rise in respiratory and other ailments, says Mukhtiar Zaman, a lung specialist at the Khyber Teaching Hospital in Peshawar.
Zaman tells SciDev.Net that cases of hepatitis and HIV/AIDS have also been on the rise because of the improper disposal of biomedical waste that frequently contains sharps.
“People get pricked with contaminated needles carelessly disposed in garbage bins and contract hepatitis and other infections," he says.