Safer Water for Schools: Responding to Environmental Health Risks in Gilgit-Baltistan
Safer Water for Schools: Responding to Environmental Health Risks in Gilgit-Baltistan
© WWF-Pakistan

Gilgit-Baltistan is a water abundant region as its glaciers provide 50.5 billion cubic metres of water to the Indus River annually, which makes up 70 per cent of the main annual flow. Glaciers and snow deposits are the principal source of water in Gilgit-Baltistan. In most urban areas, the supply of water goes down in the winter season due to reduced glacial melt. This melted water enters the streams, which subsequently feeds into man-made channels allowing water into the settlements for agriculture, domestic requirements and livestock purposes. In the summer, pit water is stored and used more frequently. 

According to a 2019 report of the Gilgit-Baltistan Environmental Protection Agency, 79 per cent of the 66 samples of spring and surface water were found to be contaminated with heavy metals, whereas 20 per cent of the samples were deemed unfit for human consumption according to the National Drinking Water Quality Standard (NDWQS) and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. This paints a dismal picture of the current state of water management in the region and highlights the scope of work that needs to be done with regards to sewage and waste treatment. 

Cognizant of these issues, WWF-Pakistan, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Italian government, and in collaboration with Gilgit-Baltistan’s Education Department, installed water purification units to provide safe drinking water to students in accordance with the NDWQS in the buffer-zone schools of Central Karakoram National Park (CKNP). 

Eighty-five drinking water purification units with a treatment capacity of 20 litres/minute were installed from 2019 to 2021, which have provided a litany of benefits to the locals of the area.

As a consequence of this initiative, government schools located in the far-flung areas of CKNP, the majority of which are girls’ high schools, now have access to safe drinking water for a staggering 23,706 individuals. Moreover, the surrounding communities in the vicinity of these schools are also benefiting from the filtration units and have access to a steady supply of safe water for consumption. 

Prior to their installation, a risk assessment study was conducted in the targeted villages, aiming to ascertain and verify the quality of drinking water in schools and select the appropriate technology to purify it for the local population. The risk assessment study revealed high contamination levels in all existing drinking water facilities in the schools and found them unfit for human consumption as per the NDWQS. A water quality analysis of the selected schools was conducted prior to the installation of the filtration plant with the support of the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), which showed the presence of bacterial counts higher than the standards set for drinking water in the NDWQS and by the WHO. 

According to a report of the Pakistan Medical Association, 30 per cent of all diseases and 40 per cent of all deaths are related to poor water quality. Diarrhoea, a waterborne disease, is reported as the leading cause of death in infants in Pakistan, while every fifth citizen suffers from illnesses and diseases caused by polluted water. 

It is not just the quality of water that needs immediate attention. An official analysis shows that the rapid growth in population will lead to “absolute water scarcity” in the country by 2025, with less than 500 cubic metres of water available per person in Pakistan. Therefore, it should be the government’s priority to focus on legislation and the use of unconventional and advanced technology to conserve the country’s water resources and make sure every citizen has access to safe drinking water. 

Written by Nisar Ahmed works as Coordinator Communications for WWF-Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan region. 

Why addressing climate change should be our top priority

It is quite unfortunate that Pakistan is amongst the top 10 countries most affected by the negative impacts of climate change. This ranking was delineated by Germanwatch, from data that was collected over a span of two decades between 1999 to 2018. Pakistan ranked fifth on the list and Puerto Rico stood first followed by Myanmar, Haiti and the Philippines respectively. It is a known fact that when we burn fossil fuels, they release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses that in turn disturb the natural balance and chemical composition of gasses in our atmosphere. An increase in the concentration of these gasses traps more sunlight, consequently leading to a temperature increase that then causes climate change. 

According to the World Resource Institute, the top 10 emitters of carbon dioxide in 2018 were China, the United States, European Union, India, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, Iran and Canada. It is clear that Pakistan is not amongst the top 10 emitters of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses but unfortunately when it comes to facing the negative impacts of climate change, we are fifth on the list, a staggeringly high number nonetheless. All of the stated facts point out the dire need for us to take concrete actions that can help us in reducing the negative impacts of climate change in Pakistan.

The issue of climate change should be seen as the gravest challenge and one of the biggest caveats we will face in the future. Thus, it is imperative for policymakers in Pakistan to leave no stone un-turn when it comes to taking actions to mitigate climate change. According to the World Bank Group, Pakistan faced 126 heat waves from 1997 to 2015. If we narrow down and dissect this to yearly estimates, it shows that Pakistan suffered from an average of roughly seven heat waves each year between 1997 to 2015. Unfortunately, the heatwave in 2015 was amongst the deadliest ones yet as it caused 1,200 deaths in Sindh alone.

It is possible for us to mitigate climate change by reducing its negative impact through the implementation and ratification of realistic and achievable policies as we need steps in the right direction. The first and foremost step in this regard is to drastically increase the forest cover in Pakistan to a point where almost 40 to 50 per cent of the country should be under the forest cover. We cannot ignore the fact that trees are nature’s carbon capture and storage devices as they filter carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in biomass. This ecological service helps us in lowering the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In addition to the removal of carbon dioxide, forests are home to numerous birds, plants and animal species that play an equally important role when it comes to maintaining an ecological balance in any location, environment and place.

The government of Pakistan can actually aim to produce surplus clean electricity that could then be exported to neighbouring countries to earn additional revenue. In 2015, Germany earned over two billion euros in revenue through the export of electricity to its neighbouring countries. Similarly, Canada also exports roughly eight per cent of its cumulative electricity to the United States of America. Such can be the case for Pakistan as well where we can export surplus clean electricity to our neighbouring countries and can augment and increase the overall export revenue. The saved energy dollars and the surplus revenue can then be allocated to doubling the budget for environment and conservation initiatives. 

The government should finance projects that lead us on a trajectory to reduce Pakistan’s greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the transport sector. One such area of focus should be the hydrogen-powered buses and metro trains that are already in operation in Frankfurt and Lower Saxony in Germany. These trains and buses do not emit greenhouse gases and help lower transport-related emissions by improving the overall air quality as well. Just imagine, if we had hydrogen-powered buses and trains operating in all major cities in Pakistan!

Climate change will for sure create uncertainty when it comes to the availability of clean drinking water in Pakistan. Given that Pakistan is already a water-stressed country and with the recent surge in our population, lack of surface water storage ability and an inefficient agriculture system is further exacerbating and reducing the per capita water availability in the country. According to the WaterAid Organization, 1 in 10 people do not have access to clean drinking water in Pakistan. Adding insult to injury, 1 in 3 people lack access to decent toilets in the country. The government can also invest finances in establishing seawater desalination plants in the coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan where the desalinated water can be saved in artificial lakes so that it can be supplied to the masses in interior Sindh and Balochistan.

The coastal areas of both Balochistan and Sindh have excellent potential for electricity production through solar PV technology and wind power as this renewable resource, in abundance there can easily be harnessed to desalinate seawater. Seawater desalination plants can play a pivotal role in increasing the per capita water availability in coastal areas of Balochistan and Sindh. Summing it up, climate change is the most serious environmental threat we are now facing.. Therefore, it is crucial for us to leave no stone unturned when it comes to mitigating climate change and its impact. 

Phasing out fossil fuels through 100 per cent clean energy transition, an exponential increase in the forest cover, with a functional hydrogen-powered transport system and seawater desalination technology are few key strategies to fight climate change and reduce its impact for everyone in Pakistan. All of these ideas are realistic and achievable, provided enough political grit and financial resources are invested in this direction to bring forth real change.

Written by Ayoub Hameedi, Policy Analyst and the Founder/ Operations Manager of Project Green Earth (www.projectge.org)

Climate Security and Pakistan

“Pakistan’s contribution to CO2 emissions is far less than what the developed world continues to produce. With projects like the Billion Tree Tsunami, Pakistan is not only trying to save itself but also the region that faces the adverse effects of climate change annually.”

For Pakistanis, terrorists seem like a far more formidable enemy than rising temperature and the sea level. But what happens when climate change upends Karachi, the country's economic backbone? wrote Sualiha Nazar in her article for Foreign Policy titled “Pakistan’s Big Threat Isn’t Terrorism - It’s Climate Change. The title befits the current challenges being faced by Pakistan in terms of climate security.

Pakistan had long ignored the issue of climate change and how it was affecting the country. The severity of the issue was underestimated and little attention was paid to deter the growing threat. Extreme weather events began to cost human lives and took a toll on the economic setup of those areas frequently hit by weather-related disasters. In 2012, the government approved the National Climate Change Policy, acknowledging the threats faced by climate change and an implementation framework that was to be followed. But now under Pakistan's new National Security Policy, the threat posed by climate change has been addressed in more detail and climate security has become an important aspect of the country’s overall security concern unlike before, it is now an immediate priority.

But the damage caused by inaction will take ages to recover. Years of neglecting the country’s water resources and declining forest areas has not only impacted humans but also the country’s already vulnerable wildlife. Pakistan also began to experience longer summer spans and shorter winters with smog becoming a seasonal problem. Despite efforts, pollution and increasing carbon emissions remain a problem for Pakistan. 

While Pakistan may be guilty of not having stronger climate policies for itself sooner, it is still among the ten countries bearing the brunt caused by many of the developed countries. Hassan Aftab, a PhD student in Earth Sciences at Cambridge University who has worked with the Climate Crisis Foundation as a student consultant and is also part of the Cambridge Carbon Map team noted that Pakistan is one of the countries that is disproportionately affected by rising global temperatures. This could mean we have more frequent heat waves, droughts, floods, or any other extreme weather conditions. A country that is already water-scarce will soon face mass migration from drier and hotter regions in the south and south-west to the north. This could potentially have destabilizing consequences for the country; the only way to mitigate this would be to recognize the most vulnerable communities and when they are likely to migrate. Right now, I do not think we as a society are prepared for anything of this sort. Hassan’s observation is just one of the many shared by those looking at the country’s security from the perspective of climate change.

Apart from adopting international agreements on climate change, Pakistan has made significant progress in understanding the implications of climate change on its security. The Billion Tree Project was launched by Prime Minister Imran Khan to restore the country’s green mass lost to deforestation, particularly in the northern parts of the country. Pakistan’s northern areas are also home to many glaciers that are melting at a faster pace due to increased summer spans. They were the reason Pakistan was considered a water sufficient country but now the country’s underground water supply is also depleting. This makes Pakistan a water-stressed country that is also linked to food security. The policy guideline as mentioned in the National Security Policy reads “A climate-resilient Pakistan prioritizes climate adaptation, sustainable water management, and disaster preparedness”. It further adds to mainstream climate adaptation and response, particularly in socio-economic vulnerable regions, to steer Pakistan towards climate-resilient development and to ensure a cohesive national response to looming water scarcity through improved water storage capacity, sustainable water management.

When it comes to meeting international agreements on climate change and its adaptation, Pakistan has done more than its fair share. Pakistan’s contribution to CO2 emissions is far less than what the developed world continues to produce. With projects like Billion Tree Tsunami, Pakistan is not only trying to save itself but also the region that faces the adverse effects of climate change annually. Adeel Mukhtar, Assistant Research Associate at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), says that “the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme will keep funding natural solutions (which will sequester 148.76 Mt CO2 emissions over the next 10 years). A budget of PKR 6 billion (about US$60 million) has been set up for flood management and water recharge in six Indus Basin areas (Manchar and Hamal wetland, Taunsa pond area, and Dera Ismail Khan) to increase the area of protected land from 12 to 15 per cent by 2023. Pakistan's water, food, and energy sources are all in jeopardy as a consequence of its sensitivity to climate change. Flooding, drought, glacial melt, and unpredictably wet weather are all typical in the region. The 2010 floods were the most destructive in recent memory. Pakistan, being the world's sixth-most-affected country by climate change, does not produce a lot of greenhouse gasses.

It is the international community and in particular, the developed world that needs to accept its responsibilities to tackle climate change before it poses an even more serious threat to developing countries like Pakistan. In addition to the National Security Division of Pakistan, putting climate security as one of its top alarms, the relevant departments have also become very active, acknowledging their responsibility and are liaising with the provincial departments. It is also important to know that there is still a lack of understanding and awareness at the grass-root level. Dealing with the issues of climate change in Pakistan requires a collective long-term effort between the government and the general public, but the country also needs access to international financing as we are one of the most vulnerable countries when it comes to climate change. Only then can Pakistan truly cover all aspects linked to climate security and bring the country back from the brink of becoming a barren, water-starved land.


Written by Aisha Saeed, Independent Policy Analyst.

Water, Energy, Food and Ecosystem (WEFE) Nexus Approach in the Context of River Basin and Transboundary Landscape Perspective
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© WWF-Pakistan

The Water, Energy, Food and Ecosystem (WEFE) Nexus is an approach for making integrated policies by gathering all the targeted sectors in a common platform to mitigate trade-offs and manage synergies among water, energy, food and their impacts on the environment. The WEFE Nexus became popular because every department wants to achieve its own mandate and goals without considering other department mandates. The main aim of WEFE Nexus is to maximize synergies and minimize trade-offs. As the population eventually grows, the demand for food, water and energy also increases. Gradually our resources are depleting day by day, i.e. if the tourism department wants to promote tourism by converting pastures, grasslands or forests into roads and buildings, it will adversely impact our agriculture sector and food. It means that every department wants to achieve its own goal without considering its impact on other sectors and ecosystems.

The need for this approach was felt when every department worked on its own mandate, but the implementation and development indirectly and adversely impacted the other sectors. All living things need water and food for their survival. In addition, population growth, climate change, resource scarcity and change in human lifestyles enhance an integrated approach to resolving the issues. Previously, it was the WEF Nexus that only focused on the management of water, food and energy; it did not count the impacts on the environment. Later, the WEFE Nexus came into existence in 2008 that connected WEF to the ecosystem. Many studies have been conducted on WEFE by ICIMOD and other institutions, but no one has focused on the implementation to interconnect with the specific sustainable development goals (SDGs).

On 22 December 2021 experts from government organizations such as agriculture, forestry, Gilgit Baltistan Rural Support Programme (GBRSP), WWF-Pakistan, Karakoram International University (KIU) and the private sector came together to share their experiences and ideas and to initiate a dialogue on the WEFE Nexus approach in the context of the river basin and transboundary landscape perspective and how it can support the implementation of the SDGs. 

The theme of the meeting was to achieve sustainability of the environment through coordination and cooperation amongst various interdependent departments on a common platform in Gilgit Baltistan. The workshop aimed to launch a dialogue on how to operationalize the WEFE Nexus to help achieve the SDGs and ensure the sustainability of the environment. The main objective was to bring all the relevant departments and other key stakeholders on a common platform in Gilgit Baltistan to share the knowledge that has come so far for new recommendations and suggestions on the synergies and tradeoffs in the WEFE Nexus in the context of Gilgit Baltistan as a part of upper Indus Basin.

Nazir Ahmed, Speaker of Gilgit Baltistan Assembly, addressed the importance of mountains in the lives of the mountain community. Gilgit Baltistan is known for its biodiversity from all over the world, including mountains, glaciers, wildlife, pastures, livestock, minerals, and many more. As a mountain community, we are highly dependent on natural resources to fulfil our needs and wants without a future plan to cope with emerging challenges.

However, we suffered from many issues like insecurity of food, depletion of natural resources due to poor management of resources, facing water and energy scarcity in many places of Gilgit Baltistan, disasters and flooding due to climate change. To cope with such future challenges, we should try to protect our ecosystem by making integrated policies. We need to play our role, at least on a regional level, for the sustainable development of our region. He also suggested that government officials should not limit themselves to their daily routine work; they should work hard collectively with other departments to mitigate the severe challenges. 

Some important issues and recommendations discussed were:

  • There should be a common forum for discussing and analyzing integrated policies as well as their issues. 
  • Implementation is a science that requires a proper framework. Most of the projects failed due to a lack of a framework for their implementation.
  • Izhar Hunzai also gave a suggestion that there should be evidence-based research for making valid policies and concrete recommendations to work on projects. It is possible when researchers utilize the knowledge in a good manner and understand its contextualization, there should be pilot testing before investing all resources to identify their synergies and tradeoffs.
  • Every department made short term policies that failed in the long run. Therefore, there should be a research centre in every department to identify the long term issues and their possible solutions. In addition, there is no political will for the implementation of long term policies because it involves high costs and needs more time to reflect the benefits. Although the tenure of politicians is very small, they want to implement short term policies for the purpose of gaining more votes in the next election.
  • WEFE Nexus should have a participatory and integrated approach. The policies to address the problem are not very effective because knowledge about the source is not extracted from a grass root level.

Written by Mehreen Karim, Intern with WWF-Pakistan, Gilgit Baltistan Office.

Seeds of Change
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© WWF-Pakistan

 

Shazia, a cotton picker and a mother of six, lives in a small village in the district of Khanewal, an essential cotton-growing area of Punjab where smallholder farmers follow a mono-crop wheat-cotton cropping system. Shazia is one of the many cotton pickers of the village who earns her living by picking cotton in the fields during the harvest season, which lasts for about two to three months. 

“The picking season is short and the money earned is not enough to support the family for the whole year,” says Shazia, who like many other farmer families, does not own agricultural land except the 1,200 square yards of land around her house. “For the rest of the year, I engage in occasional farm labour and do some embroidery work that my mother taught me.” She added, “Feeding a big family is tough so I always look for opportunities to do something more.”

Fortunately, Shazia was one of the 750 women in the area, targeted by WWF-Pakistan's agriculture project. A year ago, Shazia attended one of these training sessions in her village and with the knowledge gained from the training sessions and seeds provided by the project, she planted a kitchen garden on a small plot of land adjacent to her house. Within a month, her kitchen garden was full of saplings, turning into flower-bearing plants and eventually yielding results within a couple of months.

“My first harvest was tomatoes, then okra followed by chillies and bitter gourd,” said Shazia in a voice heavy with emotions. “I produced enough vegetables to feed my family for three months, saving more than PKR 9,000 which I would have otherwise spent on buying vegetables from a nearby market.” She added, “I am now well known amongst my neighbours, as I also provide them with vegetables.” She paused and further added, “I don't mind it at all, as there is always enough in my garden.” 

After the first season, Shazia was so pleased with the newfound skill that she planned to continue the practice for the next winter season as well. 'I wanted to plant carrots, radish and cauliflower’, she added. “I now encourage others to do the same.”

Shazia is an example of someone who has successfully improved the livelihoods of rural communities to meet their vegetable requirements with fresh and healthy produce while saving money. Under the agriculture project, so far, more than 1,200 women farm-workers have been trained on kitchen gardening techniques and supported by the provision of good quality seeds to establish more than 550 kitchen gardens close to their homes.

Written by Iqra Asghar, Coordinator-Livelihood Improvement and Gender Empowerment, Food and Markets, WWF-Pakistan

Protecting the Old Wise Friend
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© WWF-Pakistan

The deafening horn of the bus woke him up. After a moment of confusion, he was clear where he was and more importantly, why he was there. The bus was passing through the most constricted and curved road of Ziarat which meant the bus terminal was nearby. This was Ahmed’s fifth annual trip back home from his university, however, the fact that his father was retiring as a forest officer after forty glorious years of service, made this trip very special. 

Looking out of the window, the fabled Juniper forest caught his eye, the splendour of the undulating landscape and how this ancient natural wonder sprawled over thousands of hectares raised his spirit. Over the years, the forest had become like a family member given that his father talked about it so often. Such a cherished forest required pragmatic conservation endeavours and protection which meant his father worked round the clock to ensure his ‘old wise friend’ – what he often called the forest, was safe from natural and human threats. Therefore, every conversation with his father would somehow find its way to the forest. ‘Look how tall they are, standing aloft even after decades. All the storms and floods could not waver their roots. Being strong does not take away their gentle presence as they benefit a multitude of animals and humans.’ He would often say proudly. 

When the bus finally reached the terminal, the passengers jostled to get their luggage and get off. Ahmed remained seated. The chaos reminded him of the monthly meetings his father and his team would conduct in different parts of various villages around Ziarat where his father would passionately talk about the importance and survival of the Juniper forest. He talked about how important the forest was and that cutting the trees for fuelwood would adversely impact us in the future. As one of the spectators, Ahmed would often notice the natives, though nodding and clapping, were more interested in the food being served at the end of the meetings. When he recounted this to his father, he would smile and reply, ‘Awareness is our strongest tool to prick their conscience.’

A loud tap on the window brought him back only to realise that the bus was now empty. He picked up his bag and moved towards the exit. As soon he got out, he took a deep breath, let the fresh air in and closed his eyes. The towering ice-capped peaks and the cool light air cleansed his mind and body. This too was a contribution of juniper trees that played a vital role in storing large amounts of carbon in their biomass and soils. We desperately need them for our future generations, he thought to himself.  

While walking towards his home, he greeted the familiar faces on the way. The sun finally shone through the thick clouds. This brought back vivid memories of his youth when he and his family used to go out for picnics. He loved them and his favourite part of these memorable picnics was when his father would gather all the children and narrate heroic stories of encounters with unique animals in the forest. His father’s eyes would light up while telling us how his team had rescued a tourist or caught hunters and poachers and handed them over to the local authorities. The moral of his stories was that coexisting with trees and animals was more fun and honourable than erasing them. Ahmed now realised how those childhood stories had instilled in him an innate fondness for the forest. The passion and fervour with which his father talked about protecting the forest made an impact on Ahmed.  

As the day ended,  his family, friends and colleagues gathered to commemorate the service of his father. Naturally, a camp under one of the oldest juniper trees was set up. As the campfire lit up the area, the greenery of the forest and the vastness of the trunks enhanced the beauty of the surroundings. Conversations bloomed, laughter erupted, and memories were recollected. Then came the most sought-after part: Ahmed’s father’s farewell speech. ‘My bond with the forest never came into being because of my job and will not end with my retirement. I will be here for you my old wise friend as long as I am alive! I hope that my people will be caring towards you even when I am gone so that our coming generations get to see this precious gift. Let this be known that protecting the Juniper forest is not a task but a duty for us all.’

Written by Maha Anjum, a third-year student at Lahore Medical and Dental College. She was a participant and a leading contender for the top three articles in WWF-Pakistan’s Creative Writing Competition for World Environment Day 2021.

Small Entrepreneurship Interventions: Protecting the Environment and Empowering Women
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© WWF-Pakistan

Trees undoubtedly play a vital role in sustaining natural and human environments as they protect watersheds, provide habitats for wildlife and help stabilize otherwise fragile ecosystems. Besides providing an array of essential products for rural and urban consumers, they also play an economic role, with timber being the main source and pulpwood producing a significant amount of national income and foreign exchange in a number of countries. Trees on farmlands also supplement the farm economy without incurring a lot of expense and effort.  Not only that, trees readily provide fodder, fuel, small timber, shade, shelter and protection from hot and cold winds, improved environment and biodiversity. They also provide additional livelihood opportunities to the locals through the sale of wood in case of unforeseen contingencies i.e., low yield of crops.

WWF-Pakistan’s Climate Resilient Crop Production (CRCP) initiative is supporting rural women in Khanewal, Multan and Bahawalpur by providing them with seeds, tools, and equipment to run small tree nurseries aimed at improving their income. The initiative focuses on establishing nurseries with indigenous trees, which may grow slower than some of the exotic trees, but are far better for the overall agro-ecosystem.

Buying plants from commercial nurseries in nearby cities or elsewhere could have been an easy yet costly task due to the high commercial prices and transportation costs involved in delivering them to far-off rural communities. Consequently, the availability of high-quality tree planting material within close proximity of farmers at affordable prices was one of the prerequisites for the larger uptake of tree cultivation. This led the project team to come up with the idea of establishing small-scale rural nurseries run by women to produce a diversity of tree planting material for marginalized and underprivileged farming communities.

 “I had never been viewed as an income earner or a working woman; rather, I was thought to be a person who loves to look after her family, cook food, and take care of her livestock; which constituted my prime responsibilities,” says Abida, a 32-year-old woman from a village in Bahawalpur. “I am fortunate that I made the timely decision to participate in this activity. This initiative has made me considerably self-sufficient. To cite one example, I independently bought my sister a valuable gift for her wedding from the money I earned by selling the nurseries. Being a woman who can earn herself makes me exceptionally happy as I have achieved a lot and I am now financially independent.”

While women’s participation in agriculture production is quite high, they are primarily involved as workers and not as beneficiaries. Since they are not owners of the land of produce, they are only seen as collectors and the benefits are passed on to the patriarchal heads of the family. In this context, the idea of establishing women-run micro nurseries ensures that they become financially independent and have the autonomy to earn and spend their own income. 

WWF-Pakistan provides rural women entrepreneurs like Abida with polythene bags and indigenous tree seeds. It is a prerequisite for all nursery growers to plant and look after the seedlings for a period of three months before selling 75 per cent of the stock back to the project at a price of PKR 10 per sapling for further distribution amongst the rural communities. The remaining 25 per cent of the stock has to be planted by the nursery owner on her family farmland.

This small initiative is not only helping women gain financial independence by working smartly from home, but is also encouraging them to realize their potential and come forward to participate in conservation-related activities. 

Written by Asad Imran, Director Food and Markets, WWF-Pakistan

Wonder Woman of the South - Marium Pakko
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© WWF-Pakistan

Marium Pakko resides in a small village of Meero Dablo, Keti Bunder, where her daughter and husband are the centre of her world. For generations, their livelihoods were dependent on fishing, but things changed when Marium’s husband developed a chronic illness that stopped him from working and supporting his family. Marium, who used to help her husband with fishing, also found herself out of work. Rather than succumbing to a downward spiral of problems, Marium took hold of opportunities to become the sole breadwinner of her family, who earns her living through sewing, stitching and selling clothes. “We live in our own thatched house, which I have constructed after working day and night.” she intones pensively.

Despite the litany of problems and adversities that came their way, Marium and her family took bold steps towards a better future. In an effort to bring forth change through initiatives involving the local communities, WWF-Pakistan provides training and alternative livelihood opportunities to local women in the deltaic region, allowing them to augment their income generation capabilities and improve their standard of living. It is this very opportunity that enabled Marium to support her family and make a life for herself. 

“I am thankful to WWF-Pakistan for helping and supporting us by providing the womenfolk of the community with sewing machines and also training us on textile and handicraft manufacturing to make marketable products which give us an avenue to earn more. Not only that, we also acquired and honed entrepreneurial skills”.

Before Marium was given the sewing machine, she used to earn PKR 12,000 a month by manually harvesting razor clams, which is a physically arduous process. She would then sell them off to a middle-man, who in turn gave her money. This was a cumbersome process where her means of earning were limited and her potential was being wasted. Acting on her affinity for creativity, she began to sew and stitch clothes part-time to make ends meet. 

Explaining the travails of her life, she heaved a sigh and lamented that “Sewing and stitching was something I always wanted to do. Since I did not own a sewing machine, I used to sew clothes on my neighbour’s machine. Sometimes, I would stitch clothes by hand, which was both painful and laborious. It used to take a very long time to stitch the clothes and since I did not make any finished products, I got paid very little for my work.”

She further explained that “There was a time when I could barely manage my family's expenses and there used to be days when we could only afford one meal a day.” But, things did take a turn for the better. Today, she earns PKR 20,000 per month through sewing and stitching, almost double of what a man earns on average in her village. With an unflinching sparkle in her eye, she told us, "Our life has improved drastically and we have enough to sustain ourselves now. Through WWF-Pakistan, I have saved time and money and acquired skills and resources which have eased my financial stress and also improved my health overall.”

“I remember during tough times when I didn't earn enough, I used to go fishing, and as a woman, our community never encouraged me to do this but I immersed myself in it for my family.” 

The only other alternative was to cut mangroves and sell wood. WWF-Pakistan has done considerable work for the conservation of mangroves in the Indus Delta and is still working on the ubiquitous issues in the Delta and the coastal community. “Since we live near the coast of the Indus Delta, I recall people from WWF-Pakistan calling us the guardians of this coast. I always wondered why they called us that. Later on, we realized that we had a very precious resource that we had been exploiting for decades. We weren't aware of the advantages of mangroves. We are dependent on them, and if these resources vanish, human lives across the Indus Delta will also be ruined.”

“For ages, we have faced hundreds of challenges due to climate change. When we became aware about the benefits of mangroves and found out how they protect us and support a number of species in the Indus Delta, we helped conserve these forests and reduced our dependence on them.” This was made possible by WWF-Pakistan’s provision of nursery grounds for juvenile saplings, which has helped create awareness and increase the mangrove cover in the Delta. Mangroves are pivotal for the region as they are home to a multitude of birds, play a major role in carbon sequestration, and act as a barrier against a number of catastrophic effects that could be devastating to the environment and the people. “As guardians, we are now taking a number of initiatives to protect the mangroves as we know we are the ones who need them for our survival.”

Marium also mentioned how people living in rural areas with very limited facilities and basic amenities face an array of problems due to the lack of resources, dearth of livelihood opportunities, water shortages, poor road networks and poor infrastructure. These are the issues that need the utmost attention for the local communities and the inhabitants of the deltaic region to live a better life.

Co-authored by Hamera Aisha, Manager Conservation, WWF-Pakistan and Jawad Umer Khan, Coordinator Marine Programme, WWF-Pakistan.