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.
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.
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.
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