IUCN-USAID Pakistan organized the Closing Ceremony of its USAID funded project titled: “Integrated Approach to Education, Capacity Building and Livelihood Development of Coastal Communities in Sindh and in Baluchistan Provinces” at a local hotel in Karachi. Ms. Iffat Malik, Additional Secretary, Sindh Forest Department was the chief guest for the event.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, IUCN Country Representative appreciated the generosity of the American people, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for investing in the environment and sustainable development of our country. He hoped that this partnership would continue flourishing in future with newer, bolder initiatives.

Mr. Cheema explained that this project had focused primarily on raising community awareness on the importance of nature conservation. A significant portion of the project’s activities were dedicated to raising environmental awareness and building capacity in schools and local communities along the coastline. Through this initiative, environmental education sessions were held in more than 60 schools, where around 5,000 students and 500 teachers benefited. Because IUCN places a great deal of importance on building sustainability through community involvement, this project is a very good example of IUCN’s approach to environmental conservation.

The project also addressed an issue that does not often receive the attention it is due: the illegal trade in endangered species. One of the reasons it is so difficult to regulate and prevent the trade in endangered species is because there is very little awareness of it amongst the general public. Under this project, a study was conducted on the illegal trade in freshwater turtles, the results of which were presented and discussed at a consultative workshop earlier this month. At the same time, efforts were made to make beach goers conscious of how they may be able to contribute to the continued survival of marine turtles.

Finally, the project also worked to promote eco-tourism along the coast in order to benefit the local communities in the area by presenting them with an alternative means of livelihood.

Ms. Iffat Malik commended both IUCN for its tireless efforts in this area, and USAID for its generosity and for turning this project into a reality, which is a reflection of its continued commitment to improving the environmental situation in Pakistan. She explained that the coastal areas of Pakistan face numerous problems that include the degradation and depletion of marine resources, such as mangrove forests and fisheries, due to resource over-use; a dangerous illegal wildlife trade; and inadequate basic education, health and market access. These problems are being compounded by climate change, which threatens livelihoods and has far reaching economic and socio-political consequences.

Referring to the Sindh Forest Department, Ms. Malik said that the department has played an active role in trying to address many of these issues, and has been fortunate to collaborate with IUCN Pakistan on a number of occasions over the years as well, but as with any agency, it cannot make enough of an impact operating on its own. Nonetheless, projects like the one being celebrated are incredibly important. Given that this was only a year-long initiative, the number of people who have benefitted from it are commendable, and the results encouraging.

Ms. Malik expressed her optimism for even more ambitious initiatives with IUCN Pakistan for conserving our natural resource base in the future. She hoped that projects like the USAID initiative could be scaled up, and also that the Sindh Forest Department and IUCN would continue collaborating and furthering their good work.

Mr. Abdul Munaf Qaimkhani, former Deputy Inspector General Forest, Government of Pakistan appreciated the role of IUCN in conservation of natural resources over the years. He also appreciated the extent of community involvement in the project, and shared some anecdotes of his time working with communities in the field.IUCN-USAID

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