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Living with stress



A study conducted by three Karachi-based researchers has found that 40 per cent of the population in Pakistan suffers from general environmental stress. The two key stress-causing factors they have identified are demographic growth and the lack of appropriate housing and sanitary facilities. It is not clear why this study picks on only housing and family size as the key determinants of the quality of life and as such the cause of stress.

There is no denying that uncomfortable living conditions and the economic repercussions of a high population growth rate affect the quality of life of the people and can cause much stress. But there are many other factors which affect the environment in which people live and that have an equally deleterious impact on their lives. Thus the inadequacy of basic civic amenities such as transport, health care, recreation facilities, employment and pollution (industrial as well as noise) can create conditions which can cause extreme stress and affect the health and productivity of the people.

The fact is that no single factor can be identified as being the main cause of general environmental stress. A number of factors combine to create conditions that have a devastating impact on the people. Hence what is needed is a holistic approach to the issue and a multi-pronged strategy to tackle the many causes which interact with one another and compound the problem. It is indeed unfortunate that the main factors that directly affect the quality of a person's life also happen to be the most neglected areas of national life in Pakistan.

They have been relegated to the backburner in the present scheme of government planning. Since they fall in the purview of the social sector, issues such as housing, health, sanitation, transport, education, etc., are no longer treated as the government's responsibility in the modern-day economics of the marketplace. If the authorities in Pakistan decide in principle to work for an improvement in the quality of life of the people - the key determinant of the level of environmental stress - they must in principle be prepared to subsidize the social sector.

It is generally recognized that poverty is an important factor which has led to poor housing conditions, insanitation and pollution. The study hits the nail on the head when it identifies literacy as the single factor that has significant correlation with other social and demographic parameters. It is true that education can help a person alleviate to a great extent the negative impact of environmental stress. But again education and literacy are areas the government has been gradually disengaging itself from.

It is no coincidence that as the number of illiterates in Pakistan has been increasing, environmental stress has also been growing. What we have in effect is a vicious cycle - poor living conditions, insanitation, pollution, illiteracy, ill-health and poverty feeding into each other and increasing the stress level. This cycle has to be somehow broken and for that the government's intervention is absolutely essential. Once an improvement is effected in some of these areas, the people will be motivated to uplift themselves.