Life Below Water, nowhere on priority

Life below water, Pakistan has several infrastructures and hierarchies dealing with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at provincial and federal level.

Life Below Water, nowhere on priority

Life below water, They are working very hard, as they claimed to be, on all the 17 SDGs the 193 countries including Pakistan signed way back in September 2015. Despite all ‘hard work’ and ‘very efficient teams’ and infrastructures, nothing is visible on the surface. While surfing different websites on Pakistan’s SDGs, one cannot find even one matrix that could explain progress on the SDGs. However, I find June 2020 newsletter of the National Initiatives for Sustainable Development Goals, Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, that reflects in some of the news items that Federal SDGs Unit is still setting the baseline for the SDGs in collaboration with the Pakistan Statistics Bureau (PSB).

Somehow we see the Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC) has launched several initiatives to meet the SDG-13 the Climate Action targets. Thanks to Malik Amin Aslam, the Prime Minister’s Advisor on Climate Change, for his visionary leadership that enabled the ministry at least to come up with some visible initiatives to ensure the compliance of targets on SDG-13. On Monday last, MoCC with the support of UNDP Pakistan, organized a grand event to announce the Pakistan government’s achievements on the SDG-13 a decade before the actual deadline – September 2030. The experts and critics have yet to absorb and digest this claim.

While surfing around Pakistan’s virtual platforms on SDGs, I found most of them are at the initial stages in terms of specific investments to achieve the targets. No clear pathway or direction is seen. God forbid, we may be on the last numbers in the list of SDGs achievers as we were on the list of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Despite knowing the importance of the blue economy in many ways, one can hardly find any progress on the targets set for the SDG-14 Life Below Water. Insanely, the revised National Maritime Policy is dusting the shelves of the ministry for the last three years. It shows the actual importance and priority of the maritime affairs that include all the SDG 13 targets. If the authorities are open to suggestions, it may be recommended to urgently wipe off the dust and have a multi-stakeholder consultation on the policy in the context of SDG 13 targets besides other infrastructure and development initiatives. Then it should be tabled in the cabinet for approval sooner than later.

Sadly, marine pollution is increasing but the provincial and federal governments are totally confused over the mandate and scope of their discriminatory discretion. Ten years now, they are still confused on the helm of affairs and behaving chaotically after the 18th Amendment. Provinces were happy to have their autonomy of authority and funds, but unfortunately could not cope up with their responsibilities and obligations. Maritime affairs is one of the badly suffered sectors that needs sincerely taken steps immediately. I have no idea how it would be done amicably between the Centre and the provinces when they are habitual in locking their horn on every single issue to add more fuel to the hostile political environment. In such a scenario, a more professional team of development partners and relevant experts could do the needful.

Life below water, A third-party evaluation of the maritime sector would set a rational baseline for the next steps such as its strategic development. There is no public awareness and meaningful engagement of stakeholders. Hardly found any partnerships for development and scope of applied research though there are some maritime research institutes in the country. Their capacity and capabilities could help achieve the SDG 14 targets.

There is no single platform of stakeholders and partners to interact and share their thoughts, to show their trepidations and apprehensions over what is going on around the maritime affairs. No joint policy advocacy, awareness-raising and outreach initiatives, no engagement of the coastal communities – the backbone of the maritime sector. Strangely, all the maritime affairs are sailing without any inclusive vision and vigorous leadership.

Admiral (Retired) Asaf Humayun has rightly pointed out that Pakistan is signatory to many international treaties and conventions on maritime affairs but we hardly had any significant implementation. Maritime affairs have also divided mandates between the federal and the provinces after the 18th amendment in the constitution that leads to overlapping and tug-of-war between the two power centres.

On many occasions, he believes, it turned to be quite confusing what role is of the federal or of the provinces. Being far away from the Centre despite having the federal ministry, often the maritime affairs have no fanfare and sometimes we see duplication of work. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has all types of globally accepted regulatory frameworks, Pakistan simply adopts it for the sake of marine resource conservation.

We have three ports and a 1050 km long coastal belt to benefit from the blessings of the ocean but have no adequate policy and action plan to harness the benefits. More than 3000 million gallons of untreated wastewater is drained to the ocean. It has caused severe sea pollution damaging the fisheries. European Union has banned import of fish from Pakistan resulting one-sixth of the catch goes to the poultry feed and part of it consumed locally.

Certainly, we need to take immediate steps to stop plastic pollution and flow of untreated liquid waste to the sea. We have defined parameters to check the oil pollution from the visiting ships and those we break in the shipyard. But SOPs are hardly implemented in letter and spirit. Huge is the agenda of revamping the maritime affairs that is not possible without establishing horizontal and vertical multi-faceted and multi-stakeholders partnerships for coordinated efforts to achieve meaningful progress on SDGs 14.

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