Pakistan is home to one of the largest brick kiln industries in the world, with more than 18,000 brick kilns operating across the country. These kilns are responsible for producing an estimated 60 billion bricks each year, which are used for construction and other purposes.
However, the industry is rife with problems, including the use of child labour, hazardous working conditions, and environmental pollution. Graana.com will share all the details about the brick kiln industry in Pakistan, its history, current state, and the challenges it faces.
History of Brick Kiln Industry in Pakistan
The brick kiln industry has a long history in Pakistan, dating back to the early 1900s when the country was still under British colonial rule.
The industry grew rapidly after the partition of India in 1947, as Pakistan needed to rebuild its infrastructure and housing stock. At that time, brick kilns were operated using traditional methods, including hand-moulding and firing the bricks in open fields.
Over the years, the industry evolved with the introduction of new technology. It includes tunnel kilns and hybrid kilns that use a mix of traditional and modern techniques. These innovations have improved the efficiency of the brick-making process and reduced the environmental impact of the industry.
Current State of Brick Kiln Industry in Pakistan
Despite technological advances, the brick kiln industry in Pakistan remains plagued by a host of problems. It includes hazardous working conditions, child labour, and environmental pollution.
Brick kiln workers are some of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in Pakistan. Most of them are unskilled labourers who work in harsh and dangerous conditions, with little or no access to basic amenities like healthcare, education, and sanitation.
They work long hours, often up to 12 hours a day, and are paid very low wages, as little as Rs. 700 per day. Many of them live on-site in temporary shelters, which lack proper ventilation and are prone to fires and accidents.
The use of child labour in the brick kiln industry is a major problem in Pakistan. According to a study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), an estimated 4.2 million children in Pakistan are involved in child labour, with many of them working in the brick kiln industry.
These children are forced to work long hours, often up to 16 hours a day, and are paid very low wages, as little as Rs. 300 per day. They are also exposed to hazardous working conditions, including extreme heat, dust, and toxic fumes.
Coal is a primary source of fuel for brick kilns in Pakistan, but due to its high cost, kiln operators often resort to cheaper alternatives, such as waste plastic, rubber, leather, and medical waste.
Unfortunately, the use of these materials produces a range of harmful pollutants, including sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, chromium, lead, and cadmium.
These pollutants have adverse effects on human health and contribute to air pollution, as well as long-term issues like global warming and climate change.
Despite the Supreme Court’s strict directives, the situation on the ground remains bleak. Only a small percentage of plants, primarily in Punjab and Islamabad, have transitioned to the more environment-friendly zigzag technology. While the vast majority continue to use the traditional fixed-chimney Bull’s trench kiln method.
The reluctance of plant owners to switch to zigzag technology stems from the fear of incurring significant financial costs, even though this new technology is both process-efficient and environmentally friendly.
Challenges Faced by the Brick Kiln Industry in Pakistan
The brick kiln industry in Pakistan faces a range of challenges, including regulatory issues, technological limitations, and social and cultural barriers.
The brick kiln industry in Pakistan is subject to a range of regulations and laws. But enforcement is weak, and many kilns operate outside the legal framework. In recent years, the government has introduced new regulations to address some of the issues faced by the industry, including the use of child labour and environmental pollution.
However, these regulations are often not enforced, and many kilns continue to operate with impunity.
Despite the introduction of new technology, the brick kiln industry in Pakistan still faces technological limitations. Many kilns operate using traditional methods, which are inefficient and labour-intensive.
The high cost of modern technology and equipment also makes it difficult for small-scale kiln owners to upgrade their operations. This results in low productivity, poor-quality bricks, and high operating costs.
Social and Cultural Barriers
The brick kiln industry in Pakistan is deeply entrenched in the social and cultural fabric of the country. Many kilns are family-owned and operated, and the industry provides employment to thousands of people, including women and children.
However, social and cultural norms also contribute to some of the problems faced by the industry. It includes the use of child labour and the marginalisation of workers. Changing these norms and attitudes is a long-term process that requires a coordinated effort from the government, civil society, and the private sector.
Solutions and Recommendations
The problems faced by the brick kiln industry in Pakistan are complex and multi-faceted and require a comprehensive approach to address them. Here are some solutions and recommendations that can help improve the industry:
The government of Pakistan should strengthen the enforcement of existing regulations and introduce new ones to address the problems faced by the industry.
This should include stricter regulations on the use of child labour, environmental pollution, and working conditions. The government should also provide incentives for kiln owners to adopt cleaner and more efficient technologies.
Investment in Technology
The government, private sector, and international donors should invest in the research and development of new technologies. This way, it can improve the efficiency and environmental sustainability of the brick kiln industry.
This could include the development of cleaner fuels, more efficient kilns, and automation technologies that can reduce the reliance on manual labour.
To address the issue of child labour and improve working conditions, the government should work with civil society and the private sector to empower workers and provide them with access to education and training.
This could include vocational training programs, financial literacy programs, and support for worker cooperatives.
Promoting Alternative Building Materials
To reduce reliance on bricks, the government and private sector should promote the use of alternative building materials, such as concrete blocks, fly ash bricks, and compressed earth blocks.
These materials are more environmentally sustainable and can be produced using cleaner and more efficient technologies. Here are some popular alternatives to bricks that you might find interesting.
Terracotta Hollow Block
Terracotta hollow blocks are an eco-friendly building material made from natural clay that undergoes baking. They are strong, durable, and have hollow cores that make them lightweight while maintaining their strength.
Terracotta hollow blocks are also known for their thermal insulation properties, making them a perfect option for buildings that need to maintain a cool temperature.
Interlocking Mud Blocks
Interlocking mud blocks are made by mixing soil, sand, and cement. They are eco-friendly building material that uses natural resources, and their production process does not require high energy consumption.
Interlocking mud blocks are easy to install, thanks to their interlocking design, which eliminates the need for mortar. They are also durable and perfect for areas with harsh weather conditions.
Soil Stabilised Blocks
Soil-stabilised blocks are made by mixing soil, cement, and water. They are eco-friendly building material that uses natural resources, and their production process does not require high energy consumption.
Soil-stabilised blocks are strong, durable, and resistant to weathering. These features make them an ideal building material for areas with harsh weather conditions.
Concrete blocks are made from cement, sand, and water. They are a popular alternative to bricks as they are strong, durable, and easy to install. Concrete blocks are also known for their thermal insulation properties, making them energy-efficient building materials.
They are a great choice for high-rise buildings and construction projects that need a sturdy foundation.
Fly Ash Brick
Fly ash bricks are made by mixing fly ash, a by-product of coal combustion, with cement, sand, and water. These bricks are an eco-friendly building material that uses waste material that would otherwise end up in landfills.
They are lightweight, strong, and durable, making them an excellent building material for high-rise structures.
The brick kiln industry in Pakistan plays an important role in the country’s economy and provides employment to thousands of people. However, the industry is plagued by a range of problems, including hazardous working conditions, child labor, and environmental pollution.
To address these issues, a comprehensive approach is required that includes regulatory reforms, investment in technology, empowering workers, and promoting alternative building materials.