Saikat Kumar BasuPAKISTAN, LOCATED on the western edge of South Asia represents diverse ecosystems extending from the snow clad mountains in the north, wide river valleys, vast flood plains and deserts criss-crossing the nation with unique coastal ecosystems along her southern and south western borders. Within these vast areas are located different ecosystems with specific forest types and a rich diversity of wildlife. The spectacular natural beauty of the nation draws several tourists around the globe. But poor management of the vast natural resources, forests and wildlife has all been seriously impacting various fragile ecosystems within the nation that needs urgent attention. Lack of proper planning and their implementation at the ground level has been one of the major factors that have been slowly turning detrimental and even counter-productive in protecting the natural ecosystems of Pakistan. Lack of education and awareness among rural communities regarding environmental conservation has been grossly responsible for the rapid decline of forests and wildlife across Pakistan.

Pakistan is one of the severely water stressed nation of the planet. Global warming and climate change have also impacted Pakistan like all other nations within the region. Unfortunately, due to lack of proper planning, the nation does not have a comprehensive water budget so that available surface and ground water resources could be used judiciously. Due to rapid boost in both legal as well as illegal real estate business thriving across the nation; ground water has been used extensively for decades in construction work and the water table has receded by several feet and generated an alarming situation for the not so distant future. Currently functional infrastructural development projects within the nation do not have proper environmental impact assessment done before the initiation of such construction and infrastructure projects in areas with extremely fragile and sensitive ecosystems. As a consequence, they have cumulatively devastated local forests, uprooted local inhabitants and displaced the vulnerable wildlife; dangerously exposing them to severe hunting pressures, poaching and wildlife trafficking.

The 6,975 km long international borders of Pakistan have seriously contributed to trafficking of people, drugs, wildlife and wildlife products to and from the nation. The shifting of traditional agricultural practices towards modern synthetic chemical based agricultural system has been detrimental for several ecosystems within the nation. Due to lack of crop insurance coverages and other financial benefits to local farmers; over application of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and use of several other toxic agrichemicals indiscriminately without proper guidelines have been responsible for very serious agricultural related pollution within the country. The excess chemicals applied in the agricultural fields across the nation are washed away by rain or irrigation water to adjoining surface water bodies polluting them permanently and some even percolating downwards polluting the ground water table. Such influx of agrichemicals into fresh and estuarine water sources have detrimental impact changing the physico-biochemical parameters of surface water resources making them unsuitable for consumption by human, domestic animals as well as local wildlife in the long run. Substantial populations of local aquatic flora and fauna has been killed or dislodged due to such chemical imbalance. More seriously, the polluted and untreated water discharged from various legal as well as illegal industrial units flowing through game reserves and other protected areas have demonstrated significant impacts by killing trees, aquatic life as well hampering wildlife due to consumption of contaminated water. Poorly paid and ill trained forest guards and forest staffs with limited resources and funding are unable to protect the vast forest resources and heritage wildlife of the nation.

In addition, the culture of hunting wildlife among various rural and semi-urban communities is also detrimental for the successful protection of local forests and wildlife. Culturally inherited sports hunting of wildlife provide opportunity to locals to go for without license. Rich hunters touring the countryside even with proper hunting license and registration are also responsible for over hunting reducing populations and sub populations of various vulnerable and endangered species in sensitive ecosystems across the nation. Remote rural residents, village communities, fringe dwellers settled around protected habitats are extremely poor and hence heavily dependent on the local forest resources for their daily sustenance.

This has been putting enormous anthropogenic pressure on the forest resources and local wildlife with very little time for regeneration. The indiscriminate, illegal felling of trees and hunting of animals and birds even during breeding, birthing, laying and hatching seasons has decimated several species in Pakistan over the past six decades and needs to be urgently stopped for conserving her vulnerable ecosystems. Exponential growth of human population way beyond the carrying capacity of their local ecosystems has seriously impacted forest cover across the nation and hence the wildlife. Rapid encroachments in protected habitats, biological reserves by migrant workers as well as local residents have proved to be detrimental for many of the fragile ecosystems within Pakistan. Unless corrective measures are immediately taken in the form of a comprehensive environmental planning and management; the nation risks in losing several of her premier wildlife habitats and ecosystems.

The following recommendations for protecting the vulnerable ecosystems, forests and wildlife of Pakistan may be useful if the provincial and federal administrations of the nation take serious note of these and try to implement at least some of them. The suggestions are listed as follows:

  1. Developing a comprehensive environmental management plan for the nation including all provinces and federally administered units.

  2. All major and minor political parties, local administration, forest department, local residents, remote rural inhabitants, fringe forest dwellers, forest residents should be made important stakeholders in the process of conservation of fragile ecosystems, forests and wildlife across the nation.

  3. Small forest and wildlife protection committees need to be developed at the village level throughout the nation. They should work in close coordination with the local forest departments and district administrations in the process of conservation of forests and wildlife.

  4. New environmental protection laws need to be legislated for the purpose of conservation across the nation.

  5. Forest security guards and staff members need to be well paid and should be provided with advanced and modern training essential for protecting forests and wildlife.

  6. Proper coordination for environmental protection is needed between the provincial and federally administered units with the federal government for successful conservation efforts.

  7. Violators of environmental and ecological norms, poachers, wildlife traffickers, land encroachers should be tried according to the new environmental legislation as proposed above.

  8. It will be necessary to establish special Green Courts and/or Green Tribunals across the nation to separately and speedily deal with cases associated with ecology and environment.

  9. Education and awareness regarding environment and ecosystem protection, forest and wildlife conservation at the primary, secondary and tertiary level of education should be implemented.

  10. Mass awareness for eco-environmental conservation, forest protection and caring for wildlife need to be promoted throughout the year. Both government agencies as well as dedicated NGOs should be encouraged to educate people living around protected habitats, remote rural inhabitants, fringe dwellers and forest residents about the importance of sustainable use of forest resources, conserving forests and protecting wildlife.

  11. A section of the national budget needs to be dedicated towards environmental protection and ecosystem conservation.

  12. Stringent surveillance and monitoring of the different ecosystems across the nation needs to be undertaken.

  13. Annual survey of forests and wildlife populations using latest technological gadgets as well as overseas help would enable Pakistan in getting a better idea of the current status of several species; as well as provide an idea regarding the estimation of her natural and forest resources.

  14. A tri-level (district-province-federal) powerful monitoring committee should be designed to keep track of the various environmental initiatives and regularly asses if the initiatives are being successfully implemented at the ground level. They should report annually to a parliamentary subcommittee formed to take care of the conservation issues.

  15. Awards for recognizing individuals with substantial contribution towards conservation and/or protection of forests and wildlife should be implemented to encourage deserving individuals and/or organizations.

  16. Economic conditions of people living in and around protected habitats, wildlife reserves or biological parks need to be improved. Such communities could be employed through the conservation initiatives. That way they will get financial returns for their services in protecting local forests and wildlife.

  17. A national afforestation program needs to be developed and implemented for the greening of Pakistan.

  18. Programs such as Joint Forest Management, Social Forestry schemes, Private-Public Partnerships in forest conservation, Local Forest Management so successful in other South Asian nations could be tried in Pakistan too.

  19. A Joint Conservation Initiative (JCI) could be implemented through formal agreement among the SAARC member nations. Within this proposal, several initiatives like joint conservation efforts, joint border management to reduce poaching, wildlife trafficking, captive breeding and introduction to wild programs for endangered species, translocation of a species from the country of abundance to the country of low population could be included for broadening the platform of conservation across South Asia. This could also involve training staff and officials in different countries, exchange of skill and expertise between member nations regarding conservation of wildlife and forests; and could greatly strengthen regional conservation efforts and promote friendship and wildlife tourism among SAARC member countries. The SAARC platform if used appropriately can bring rich dividends for all the member nations in the realm of conservation.

  20. Over applications of agricultural chemicals should be discouraged and need to be brought under legal control.

  21. Agriculture promoting and facilitating units need to be developed across the nation to train and educate local farming communities in modes of sustainable agricultural practices.

  22. Rural banking network in Pakistan needs to be improved to facilitate helping the rural poor with small business enterprises. Soft loans for poor farmers, crop insurance schemes can revolutionize agricultural practices of Pakistan as well as protect the local ecosystems.

  23. All industrial units operating within Pakistan should have individual /collective or central water treatment facilities for treating used water before they are released into the local water bodies.

  24. Since environment and development are in conflict with each other, it is a distant dream to completely ban the hunting which generates revenue for the nation and government. However, strict monitoring of legal hunting should be followed and care must be taken to avoid the danger of over hunting or over harvest during the hunting season or illegal hunting.

  25. When allowing hunting in different regions, regeneration period should be allowed for the species to recover from the continuous hunting pressure.

  26. All infrastructural and developmental projects across Pakistan must be properly evaluated following Environmental Impact Assessment, before any such project is sanctioned or implemented.

It is not possible to fix all the environmental as well ecological issues of Pakistan overnight. However, if both the government as well as the ordinary citizens of the nation are serious enough to face the challenges of conservation and work together as a dedicated unit; it is difficult both not at all impossible to change the current status of forests and wildlife in Pakistan to a positive direction. A paradigm shift in attitude is necessary as well as the political initiative and will to implement necessary change to protect the dwindling wildlife and forest resources of the nation.

By Web Team

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