‘Ecosystem degradation threatens water security’

Experts say govt has failed to protect habitats despite allocation of funds


Our Correspondent May 30, 2021
Pakistan is among the top 10 countries most affected by climate change. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD:

Experts speaking at the webinar on Saturday opined that the provincial and federal governments have failed to protect habitats despite all policies, action plans and allocation of funds. The core reasons for the degradation of ecosystems, they cited, were unchecked deforestation, use of land change and overexploitation of natural resources, including subsurface water.

Aquifers are depleting causing a severe threat to water security as we have already reached below the required water per capita. The unsustainable adaptation mechanisms have led us to a dangerous situation. We among the top five countries most vulnerable to disasters and climate change impact that would immensely affect water and food security, they maintained.

The Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) and DTN organised the webinar on the subject “Ecosystem restoration for water and food security for all” to boost the World Environment Day (June 5) theme.

Climate advocacy expert and Executive Director Devcom-Pakistan Munir Ahmed hosted and conducted the webinar. Introducing the topic, he said: “Pakistan’s all eleven ecosystems are under severe threats because of the negligence and inefficient management by the governments. There is no sufficient check on deforestation that has declined too much less than two per cent."

He added: "The 10 billion tree tsunami project is focusing more on the plantation of saplings while timber and housing mafias are free to their will for changing the land-use and chopping off trees. Illegal hunting of migratory birds remained unchecked. Biodiversity habitats are in shambles."

He continued: "There is no integrated and inclusive strategy for ecosystem restoration. It speaks of the priority of government while hosting the international event of World Environment Day on June 5.”

PFAN Country Director Saima Qadir said over 4.7 million hectares of forest lost annually from the global map. "Ecosystem loss is destroying natural habits and biodiversity, and carbon sinks found in forests and peatland, at a critical tipping point for climate change. In addition to mitigating Greenhouse Gases, maintaining biodiversity through restoring ecosystems is equally important for sustaining life on earth."

She added: "Covid-19 has been disastrous for ecosystem loss and its restoration means repairing billions of hectares of land so people could have access to food, clean water, and jobs."

She said the rapid loss has left us only six years instead of ten to control and manage the loss of ecosystems in Pakistan.

Food Security and Climate Change expert Aftab Alam Khan said: “Ecology is the inter-relations among plant, animals, human beings and environment. Disrespect for the environment has distorted ecology and we are facing a climatic crisis. Agriculture is the worst hit. In Sindh, for instance, during 2020, around 363 per cent above average August rainfalls inflicted food and agriculture over two million acres."

He added: "A paradigm shift is required. Government policies and programmes should integrate ecological restoration. Research and extension should integrate local knowledge with scientific developments for a climate-resilient food and agriculture system in Pakistan."

Water Security expert Dr Zainab Ahmed said: “Water is integrally significant for communities and states. But a country like Pakistan with around 207 million people where 90 per cent of water utilization is for agriculture, which eventually contributes 20 per cent to GDP, water security remains the impending issue."

She added: "Over the last two decades water in Pakistan is not just one of the foremost challenges in managing the federation yet is one of the leading issues in foreign policy and national security. Water availability in Pakistan is dependent on a singlewater-stressedystem, which also is the source of maintaining groundwater level."

She continued: "Per capita water availability was per centubic meters in 1951 which has reducwater-scarcebic meters in 2021. This availability may soon fall to 860 cubic meters and if an effective strategy is not followed it may fall up to 500 cubic meters by 2040."

Currently, she added, Pakistan is on 23rd number among 167 water-scarce countries and top ten being affected by Climate Change. "Today in Pakistan about 3.369 million people are water stressed, about 8.541 million people are in water scarcity and 89.94 million people are in absolute water scarcity. About 47 percent of Pakistan’s population lives in water scarce areas. The demand of water by 2025 is expected to reach 274 MAF while supply remains at 191 MAF, a big challenge at the doorstep."

Former Federal Planning Commission chief for the water sector and Development Finance chair Naseer Gillani said Pakistan's food security has not been allocated specific investment with respect to restoration of ecosystems. "The UN Decade calls for 3.5 million hectares of land back to its original productivity but we had not announced to reverse soil degradation projects. On the other hand, immense change of land-use is taking place unnoticed."

He added: "Groundwater management is totally missing while 39 Canal Commands are withdrawing more water than recharge hence water table is lowering reducing the storage and increasing the cost of pumping out. Groundwater over-mining is resulting in saline water intrusion thus making the groundwater use hazardous."

He mentioned that soil salinity is on increase due to less availability of canal water. "The construction of Mohmand Dam will bring an insignificant increase in irrigated agriculture only 17,000 acres at an official cost of Rs304 billion that practically would rise to minimum Rs750 billion."

Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2021.

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