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Wetlands of Pakistan: Management and Conservation




  •  Areas of marsh, fen, peat land of natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static, flowing, fresh, brackish or salt water, whether, including areas of marine water, the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six meters is called wetland. Pakistan is blessed with about 225 significant man-made and natural wetlands spread over approximately 10% of the country. Lakes, canals, dams and lagoons formed as part of Pakistan’s extensive Indus basin irrigation system are classified as man-made wetlands. Natural wetlands, whether permanent or seasonal exist as peat lands, rivers, stream, lake marshes, estuaries, mudflats and inter-tidal areas. Pakistan wetlands occur in a broad variety of ecological zones including arid, semi-arid, alpine and coastal areas.

    Some twenty years after Pakistan?s independence, an exploration sponsored by WWF?UK revealed that wildlife and wetlands resources in Pakistan were severely threatened and, in most areas, declining in condition. Pakistan’s wetlands support a broad spectrum of important plant species and invertebrate and vertebrate animals, the latter includes a range of threatened, endemic and endangered species, five species of mammals, nine bird species, six form of reptile, and about six freshwater, estuarine and marine fish types,-several of these animals are world famous such as the Indus Dolphin, Punjab Urial, Marsh Crocodile and Green and Olive Ridley turtles, many types of migratory birds including white-headed duck. Siberian Cranes, Sarus Cranes, Greater Flamingoes and Spot-billed Pelicans use Pakistan’s wetlands as wintering grounds.
    Our wetlands are generally degrading due to a whole range of human inducted threats including; conversion of wetlands and their immediate surroundings for agriculture and other purposes, damming of rivers and changes in water flow regimes, over harvesting of many forms of wetlands resources, felling of timber and deforestation of catchments areas, organic and inorganic pollution of wetlands, policy deficiencies and inadequate management.
    We can benefit from wetlands by sustenance for agriculture, grazing and fisheries, provision of vital habitat for wildlife, especially waterfowl, maintenance of water quality and abatement of pollution, flood and erosion control, maintenance of both surface and underground water supplies, tourism, outdoor education, sports and recreation; and contribution to global climate control and stability. 
    Keeping in view the above benefits, Ministry of Environment, Govt. of Pakistan has inaugurated an integrated programme for the conservation and betterment of our wetlands. By 2003, the national and site level investment in wetlands was generally inadequate to meet the challenge of conserving globally important biodiversity. At the national level, the key significant drawback was the absence of an effective enabling environment that could encourage and sustain initiatives for biodiversity conservation.
    Key barriers to create an enabling environment remained the lack of effective and integrated policies, absence of decision-making tools and reliable information to support effective wetlands conservation planning, technical deficiencies related to skills and equipment; and the lack of general public awareness or political pressure that favour wetlands conservation. Few comprehensive decision support systems or management tools were available for regional resource planning. The scope of the GIS facilities in the PFI and Forest Management Centre in Peshawar, was limited to forestry only and not organized to accept data on other forms of biodiversity or socio-economic conditions in wetlands and their buffer zones. Technical capacity in almost every aspect of wetlands management tended to be inadequate due to the lack of resources for scientific and specialized wetlands management training, appropriate equipment and exposure to international approaches to wetlands management. While Pakistan had produced a Wetlands Action Plan in 2000, the lack of a comprehensive Wetlands Management Strategy hindered policy formation, coordination and management of wetlands at a national scale. Additionally, options for financial sustainability had not been fully explored to enable the proliferation of long-term initiatives in biodiversity conservation. As a result, such initiatives tended to be donor-driven and short-lived.
    At the site level, several of the above-mentioned inadequacies were also evident. Although all four of the designated demonstration complexes fell within the jurisdiction of the provincial forestry and wildlife management agencies, actual activity was limited to partial enforcement of resource use regulations. Some community-based biodiversity management initiatives had been supported elsewhere by the appropriate agencies in NWFP and Sindh.
    The Pakistan Wetlands Programme (PWP) aims to promote the sustainable conservation of freshwater and marine wetlands and their associated globally important biodiversity in Pakistan. The programme strategy is based on two sub-sets of objectives. The first will provide the required policy, institutional, technical and financial framework and generate positive public support essential for the mainstreaming of wetlands conservation. The second involves the design and implementation of sustainable, participatory management plans for four independent demonstration sites, each chosen to be representative of a broad eco-region in Pakistan. It includes specific mechanisms to secure financial sustainability and enhanced replication and proliferation of viable wetlands management interventions in a nation-wide, on-going wetlands conservation initiative.
    As a developing country faced with political and economic instability, Pakistan has serious and varied economic problems. A key development challenge for the country is to promote economic growth and an equitable income distribution without degrading its natural resources. Despite its difficult economic conditions, Pakistan has striven to make environmental issues a priority. At the provincial, territorial and national level, the country is endeavoring to reduce poverty while conserving its natural resources. The Pakistan Wetlands Programme fits well within Pakistan?s development goals by aiming to promote equitable sharing of natural resources, securing rights-of-access, especially for poor communities, diversifying livelihoods, improving the income earning potential of stakeholder communities and creating incentives for sustainable wetlands management. The programme will advance the Govt.?s recent initiatives for devolution of power to provincial and local levels by developing the capacity and wetlands management skills of provincial institutions and strengthening community-based organizations.
    Pakistan has demonstrated its fundamental commitment to biodiversity conservation in general and wetlands conservation in particular through its support for appropriate international conventions. The adoption of a Wetlands Action Plan in 2000 further illustrates the Govt.?s recognition of the importance of wetlands and the need to find sustainable solutions for their conservation. Additionally, the Govt.?s support for wetlands conservation is evident from the contribution provided to the Pakistan Wetlands Programme. This included active participation in Programme formulation, involvement in field surveys and the facilitation of site selection. The pledged involvement of government agencies personnel and facilities during the implementation phase of the programme will further bolster the Govt.?s capacity and support for wetlands conservation. Govt. of Pakistan?s agencies involved in Programme formulation have committed to sustainable institutional backing for wetlands conservation. The recent initiatives by Govt. of Pakistan facilitating the devolution of power to district and tehsil level provide a strengthened context for implementation of such initiatives at the site level.
    Pakistan?s wetlands support a wide spectrum of globally important biodiversity that merits support from the international community to ensure its sustainable conservation. A significant fraction of Pakistan?s wetlands-dependent biodiversity is classified as endemic threatened and vulnerable in internationally recognized, furthermore, international conventions have recognized the role that Pakistan?s wetlands play in maintaining and sustaining regional ecological processes that support globally important biodiversity such as bird migration routes and wintering grounds. While the country is making efforts to conserve its wetlands, it is constrained in this task by lack of access to physical and financial resources and immediate political and economic problems.
    With support from the GEF, the proposed Programme offers a proactive opportunity to create an enabling environment that is essential to conserve all of Pakistan?s wetlands. Further, the Programme initiatives in four Demonstration Complexes provide a much-needed opportunity for the application of proven conservation methods and development of innovative regionally appropriate and sustainable approaches to address site-specific issues. Lessons generated within the Project will be relevant for ongoing wetlands conservation initiatives both within and outside Pakistan for evaluation and application to similar efforts in other regions and countries. Significant features of reliability are expected to include the approaches developed to integrate communities in wetlands management, providing alternate livelihoods to wetlands-dependent vulnerable groups and developing mechanisms for financial sustainability in a ?resource strained? economy. Such issues confront wetlands conservation in other countries as well and the success of measures implemented under the Pakistan Wetlands Programme will provide useful guidance to the international community.
    Despite the generally arid nature of Pakistan’s climate, the region supports an estimated 780,000 ha of wetlands that cover 9.7% of the total surface area of the country. In excess of 225 significant wetlands sites are on record in the prototype Pakistan Wetlands GIS Database developed during the PDF (B) Phase of this Project, nineteen of these have been internationally recognized by the Ramsar Convention Bureau as being of global importance. The diverse assortment of natural freshwater and marine wetlands that occur within Pakistan supports unique combinations of biodiversity. The same resource, however, also sustains an estimated 144 million permanent human residents and 3-4 million displaced persons from adjacent countries. The wetlands of the region are, therefore, generally degrading under a broad spectrum of anthropogenic threats that are mainly rooted in poverty but exacerbated by lack of knowledge and mismanagement. Wetlands and their resources make a significant, though largely unrecognized, contribution to Pakistan economy. Both freshwater and marine fish, for example, form a noteworthy portion of fish production and exports, further, they provide livelihoods for several rural communities such as fisher folk, hunters, grazers and forest users living close to wetlands, other people also use wetlands products on daily basis. Fish and fish products, baskets, blinds and reed mats and herbal medicines comprise just a few example of there products, rural people, especially poor households also extract and process wetlands material for meeting daily needs, thatched roofs – a common sight in rural areas, are made from emergent wetlands vegetation and fire wood is often gathered from forests found around wetlands. Pakistan’s wetlands support a broad spectrum of important plant species and invertebrate and vertebrate animals, the latter includes a range of threatened, endemic and endangered species, five species of mammals, nine bird species, six form of reptile, and about six freshwater, estuarine and marine fish types, several of these animals are world famous such as the Indus Dolphin, Punjab Urial, Marsh Crocodile and Green and Olive Ridley turtles, many types of migratory birds including white-headed duck. Siberian Cranes, Sarus Cranes, Greater Flamingoes and Spot-billed Pelicans use Pakistan’s wetlands as wintering grounds.
    Pakistan’s permanent and ephemeral wetlands are globally significant in two ways: first, in terms of the intrinsic value of their indigenous biodiversity and secondly, as an acute example of the poverty/subsistence-use nexus that constitutes one of the most fundamental threats to biodiversity worldwide. The high global significance of Pakistan’s wetlands is attributable to the diversity of species that they support. In all, eighteen threatened species of wetlands dependent mammals are found in the country including the endemic Punjab Urial and Indus River Dolphin. Further, twenty threatened bird species are supported by Pakistan’s wetlands in addition to twelve reptiles and two endemic species of amphibians. Pakistan’s wetlands also support between 191-198 indigenous freshwater fish species, including fifteen endemics and a total of 788 marine and estuarine fish species. The high altitude wetlands, characterized by sites such as Karumbar Lake, situated at an elevation of 4, 150m, and Saucher Lake, at 4,250m on the Deosai Plains, represent a relatively unique category of alpine wetlands that is confined to the Himalaya, Hindukush and Karakoram mountain cordilleras.
    In response to the need to generate practical, replicable examples of viable wetlands conservation practice in Pakistan, four demonstration sites, each generally typical of a broader wetlands eco-region, have been selected for development. These four sites were chosen after an exhaustive consultative process and are each representative of a broad eco-region of Pakistan: North-west Alpine Wetlands Complex (NAWC); Salt Range Wetlands Complex (SRWC); Central Indus Wetlands Complex (CIWC); and Makran Coastal Wetlands Complex (MCWC).
    It is anticipated that these site-level initiatives will implement a suite of appropriate community-based measures to conserve biodiversity and to promote the sustainable use of wetlands resources. These measures will include the establishment of conservancies and the formation of local institutions that equitably represent relevant stakeholders for sustainable management of wetlands. They will also support the introduction of alternate income generation ventures, including production sector reform. The programme will have a high replicable value in a national environment in which both public awareness of wetlands conservation issues and technical capacity to manage freshwater and wetlands will have been substantially enhanced. 
    If the 2003 scenario were to continue, it is projected that wetlands conservation in Pakistan would continue to encompass a series of essentially unrelated, short-term initiatives driven by donor support. In the absence of the measures proposed under the Pakistan Wetlands Programme, the existing national and site level conservation efforts are likely to have little sustainable impact on the globally important wetlands and their associated biodiversity in Pakistan
     
    By: Muhammad Ahmad and Dr. M. Ishaque

     

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