Biodiversity conservation still a distant dream despite initiatives

STAFF REPORT ISB: Pakistan has come up with a comprehensive plan for biodiversity conservation and protection with the aim to control biodiversity loss, restore ecosystems and promote sustainable use of natural resources for the benefit of the present and future generations.

All the provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan have approved the draft National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP). Though the government authorities believe the draft plan has paved the way for its implementation next year, yet this dream look distant as the ground situation especially in and along the Indus River is an entirely discouraging.

The initiative being taken at the government level gives the impression that still no serious work is being done that could ensure biodiversity conservation as currently work on the first inland transportation project through the Indus River is going on without carrying out the environmental impact assessment (EIA) study of the aquatic ecosystem and addressing issues raised by the Climate Change Ministry and environmentalists.

“All parallel works including building of river ships, construction of jetties and surveys for deepening of water channels are under way and the EIA will be ready before the project becomes operational,” said Inland Water Transport Development Company (IWTDC) Coordinator Jahanzeb Akram told the media.

“Environmental impact studies and environmental management plans are mandatory to be submitted to the environmental protection agencies before the launch of projects like the inland transportation project through the Indus River,” said Mehmood Nasir, Executive Director of Global Change Impact Studies Centre, a research arm of the Ministry of Climate Change.

According to the plan, the first phase will cover an area between Attock city and Daud Khel in Mianwali district.

However, a source in the ministry claimed there are cement and fertilizer factories in Daud Khel and majority of them are owned by an influential businessman who has close contacts in the power corridors, and the project was being set up to facilitate transport of his goods to other cities of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Environmentalists apprehend this navigation project would further endanger the biodiversity, environment and life along the river banks.

IWTDC Manager Operations Abdul Ghafar claims that the navigation activity will not disturb the aquatic life. He said fish growth will rather increase due to the shipping activity as water muddle will stir different things including mud and silt to help generate food for fish and other aquatic creatures.

“No one can trample environmental laws which make it mandatory to carry out environmental impact assessment before starting any project,” a senior official in the Climate Change Ministry said.

IUCN Pakistan Coordinator and wildlife expert Malik Ghulam Sarwar said water quality will also be affected due to mixing of nutrients caused by large ferry movements and oil spill, among other related things.

Same is the case with the Indus blind dolphin that faces multiple threats including overfishing, fish poisoning, increased use of illegal nets, deforestation along the Indus, fragmentation of the river due to dams and barrages, lack of freshwater, agro-industrial pollution and extensive agriculture.

“Illegal nets and fish poisoning are the biggest threats to Indus river dolphin today,” said Chief Conservator of the Sindh Wildlife Department, Javed Ahmed Mehar.

The increasing threats have confined the dolphin to the main channel only. Presently, the Guddu and Sukkur barrages host the largest population of Indus River dolphins.

WWF is actively engaged in rescuing dolphins stranded in canals and releasing them back into the main stream. At the same time, communities need to be sensitised to report the stranded dolphins so they can be rescued before it is too late. However, no tangible steps have so far been taken for the blind dolphin in the Indus River.

Experts link the NBSAP success to display of seriousness especially on the government side, which still looks a distant hope.

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