Pakistan is an agriculture-based economy, with more than 40 per cent of its labor force linked to this sector. The country has the fifth-largest population in the world, with top-tier production in various cash and food crops. Despite this, approximately 40 per cent of Pakistanis are food insecure. The country is said to be food surplus, but malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, stunting among children, and food wastage have consistently been on the rise. Consequently, the country ranks 99 out of 121 countries according to the Global Hunger Index (GHI).
The crop area and irrigation system are expanding day by day, which increases the burden on natural resources such as water and life on land, etc. It is estimated that 40 per cent of food produced globally is either lost or wasted throughout the supply chain. In light of this, there is a need to shed light on the waste hierarchy to reduce, recycle, and reuse (RRR) the already existing system to minimize waste production that goes into landfills.
Food circularity or a circular food economy is the need of the hour to ensure the sustainability of Pakistan's current food system. This is a cyclic way to reduce, recycle, or reuse food in a manner to produce products that could be used or returned to the original food supply chain. Essentially, the circular food economy is all about identifying and closing the loopholes in the food system, such as production-consumption and disposal, by returning it back into the system. This is a regenerative approach where food commodities are constantly repurposed to ensure sustainability.
A circular food economy is only one piece of the puzzle that represents sustainability in the supply chain. Climate change, sustainable energy, sustainable agriculture, social sustainability, etc., are the major aspects that join hands to facilitate and ensure sustainability. The existing food economy in Pakistan is linear where food is produced by the farmer, processed and packaged by manufacturers, distributed by suppliers, purchased by consumers, and eventually disposed of at landfill sites. It is estimated that globally, 500 billion tons of resources are used to produce different products, including food items, but only one per cent of these products are reused, and the remaining 99 per cent goes to landfills as waste. Similarly, in the case of food waste, only three per cent is recycled in the form of compost, etc., and the remaining 97 per cent goes to landfills.
The waste management system of Pakistan is deteriorating with each passing day. Waste produced from households, the hospitality sector, and local small-scale industries goes directly to landfill sites without any prior segregation or treatment. This dilemma is impacting both human lives, the environment, and natural resources, including water, soil, air, etc. Unsegregated waste is dumped directly into landfills, resulting in unwanted greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), approximately 10 per cent of the total GHG emissions come from food waste alone. To put this into context, this is equivalent to being the third-largest GHG-emitting country in the world.
Food waste has immense potential for the circular food economy or circular food system. It is a great source of nutrient-rich fertilizer, animal feed, burning material, biofuel, etc. Our first approach should be to reduce losses at the farm level, logistics, and eventually at the consumer level, including households and the hospitality sector. Surplus food that is safe for consumption should be distributed among the population that needs it. However, in certain situations, food, whether from losses or waste, is unavoidable, which could be recycled to produce the above-mentioned environmentally friendly products to reuse cyclically to complete the circular food model. This approach will not only reduce the carbon footprint of food loss and waste (FLW) but also minimize the effect created.
Do you know that there are 2.2 billion people in the world who have very limited or no access to clean and safe water? Access to safely managed water remains a pipe dream for over 22 million people in Pakistan alone.
Water is our most precious resource. The existence of life is not possible without it. 71 per cent of the earth is covered with water out of which only 2.5 per cent is freshwater. Most of this is locked up in ice or deep underground. Rivers, lakes, and groundwater hold only a tiny fraction of this freshwater which is used for agriculture, industry, etc.
Pakistan is a water-stressed country and it is primarily due to inequitable distribution, poor management and governance of water resources in the country. Nearly 90 per cent of Pakistan’s water goes towards agriculture as crops such as sugarcane and rice require large quantities of water for cultivation. Moreover, groundwater resources are being depleted in rural as well as urban areas as communities try to come to terms with the inadequate availability of water. This is untenable for a country of 220 million.
The protection and management of water resources must be an integral responsibility of all sectors and at all levels. The government, private sector, corporations, academia, and individuals must join hands to protect water for the present and future generations.
In light of this, WWF-Pakistan and Australian Aid have launched an advocacy campaign titled ‘Water Muhafiz’, under the Australia-Pakistan Water Security Initiative (APWASI). Muhafiz is an Urdu word which means “protector”. ‘Water Muhafiz’ is a call to action that aims to generate awareness and encourage everyone to rethink our collective approach to water governance through individual action.
Becoming a Water Muhafiz is all about behavioral change to protect water whenever and wherever possible. At home, one can turn off the tap while brushing their teeth, turn off the shower while shampooing, reuse laundry wastewater, choose a bucketful of water instead of the garden hose, take shorter showers, wash clothes once a week, and fix leaks, etc. Such subtle changes in our daily choices will eventually lead to water conservation at a much larger scale, especially when everyone collectively partakes in them.
If you work at a car service station, you can reuse water from the car wash for other purposes, you can use less water, or you can use non-toxic surfactants, etc.
As a teacher, you can develop water clubs, start on-campus rainwater harvesting, or reuse wastewater from handwashing to water school lawns and green belts, etc.
As a corporate employee, you can measure your water footprint and reduce it as much as possible. You can educate employees on water conservation, use low-flow fixtures, contact a water auditor, use recycled water, consider xeriscaping, and buy water-efficient equipment, etc.
As a city administrator you can map the water resources available to communities and then develop plans that cater to the most vulnerable. This may involve rethinking water tariffs so that they are in line with the income of the people. This may also involve how and where water is being used if your city is water stressed. For example, reducing the number of golf courses and maintaining greater checks on larger users of water such as industry.
As a policymaker you can move away from siloed decision-making and instead actively involve communities, especially women and children, with regards to water resource planning. A top down approach towards water management will not work, especially when communities are being impacted by climate change, for example.
Conservation of water is not an option, rather a necessity. Every inhabitant of this planet must be a Water Muhafiz and must protect water resources for the present and future generations. This involves a commitment at a personal level to conserve water resources with the aim of collective action. Aligning one’s personal commitment and striving for collective action is the basic premise of being a Water Muhafiz.
See how WWF-Pakistan is demonstrating better urban water management practices under the Australia-Pakistan Water Security Initiative and learn and act to conserve and protect water to become a #WaterMuhafiz.
Forests are key ecosystems that harbour an exceptional amount of biodiversity, regulate key aspects of global carbon cycle, weather patterns, and contribute directly to national income and the local livelihood. A significant area of the world’s forests is owned and/or managed by local communities, a practice that is growing rapidly across the globe. For rural households living near the forests, as much as 22 per cent of their income comes from timber and non-timber forest resources. About half of the income from forests is non-cash that includes food, fuel, fodder, construction materials, and medicine.
Linkage between improved livelihood and forests protection is not only a necessity, but also a goal. This approach is a wise strategy in finding a balance between the needs of people and survival and growth of forests. By compensating communities and fostering social capital to conserve and manage their shared property, it is not only beneficial for the environment, but it also strengthens the community's social relationships and sense of ownership of the forest. Trust and social capital play a significant role in economic development and collective action to protect the environment. The conservation of natural resources often relies on voluntary contributions and payments for environmental services policies can aid these efforts by providing funding for the maintenance of forests and other natural vegetation.
The Mohra community in Nathiagali, KP, located in the moist temperate zone of the Himalayas, is working with WWF-Pakistan to conserve their community forest land under the ‘Forest Restoration Action Project’ a partnership between WWF-Pakistan and Serena Hotels. The community follows the principles of community forest protection and through past experiences, they have learnt the importance of their forest resources and how to effectively conserve them.
The community quickly understood the concept of incentive-based conservation and designated a 41-hectare forest patch on communal land as a "Conservation Site". The site is home to more than 32,000 trees and is capable of absorbing 4183 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The main objective of this site is to create a protected area where logging and grazing is prohibited, allowing the forest to naturally regenerate.
According to the community members, “Erosion and landsliding have become major issues at Mohra, where forest cover has been removed and stabilizing those slopes demands huge financial resources. Forest conservation will help control erosion, protect the watershed and the regeneration of conserved zones will help increase the forest cover.”
To make up for the reduction in their dependence on forest resources, the community is given improved quality seeds to grow fodder for their cattle, kitchen gardening seeds, and fuel-efficient stoves to significantly decrease the consumption of biomass for cooking and heating. The provision of these stoves will further decrease the workload for the female community members who are mostly involved in collecting fuel wood from the forest. Additionally, the community was given a solar geyser, a clean energy operated device that was installed in a mosque. To ensure the preservation of the conservation site, this project will also support the provision of green jobs which will ensure that the conservation continues beyond the project’s life.
By taking advantage of the benefits of incentive-based conservation, more communal land is now being included in the project for planting, as the community is increasingly interested in restoring the forest to address issues of slope erosion and other related forest services. Community participation is essential for the success of conservation practices, and the incentive-based mechanism is a crucial tool in the conservation of natural resources. The Mohra community serves as a model for this approach.
Trees undoubtedly have a vital role in sustaining natural and human environments as they protect watersheds, provide habitat for wildlife and help to stabilize otherwise fragile ecosystems. Besides providing many essential products for rural and urban consumers, they also play an economic role, being the main source of timber and pulpwood, thus producing significant amounts of national income and foreign exchange in a number of countries. Pakistan in general, and the province of Punjab in particular, have a narrow forest resource. More than 90 per cent of the fuel wood and about 72 per cent of timber requirements are being met from trees growing on private farm lands, based on agroforestry / social forestry / community forestry as compared with the state forests. It is obvious that trees have to be grown in conjunction with agricultural crops on private farm lands.
Not only do the trees readily provide fodder, fuel, small timber, shade, shelter and protection from hot and cold winds, improved environment and biodiversity, they are also a very useful source to improve socio-economic conditions through the sale of wood, especially when there are crop failures due to natural calamities.
WWF-Pakistan under its Food and Markets Programme has initiated the Agroforestry project and is supporting rural farming communities in earning extra income from low yielding piece of lands they own. To attain the maximum benefit from the activity, the project team engaged both male and female members of the community which led to improved socio-economic resilience of the participants. Women workers were provided with seeds, polythene bags, and equipment to run small tree nurseries aimed at providing readily available tree stock for agroforestry plantation drives in the area. Instead of buying plants from nurseries, the project team bought tree saplings from the micro-nurseries developed by rural women.
Wahid Bhaksh and Zahoraan bibi, husband and wife, participated in the agroforestry and micro-nurseries activity, respectively. Mr Bakhsh is a smallholder farmer who owned 1.5 hectares of saline land which was not a good source of producing high yielding crops. He integrated agroforestry into his agricultural land use system by establishing a block plantation of Acacia trees. This will help him enhance the land productivity and will also provide economic benefit by selling trees, in the coming years. Zahooran Bibi says,“It was a hard time for us, as due to an accident, my husband was not able to work full-time. But we are blessed to be a part of the agroforestry project, as it is helping us to maximize the utilization of our available resources. I grow tree nurseries in my backyard and earn a handsome amount within a few weeks, this is amazing.”
This hardworking couple has inspired many other farming families in the vicinity. These small-scale interventions have proven to be successful in improving the livelihoods of farming families and providing them doable alternate income opportunities.
Written by Iqra Asghar, Coordinator - Rural Livelihood Improvement & Gender Empowerment, WWF-Pakistan.
Water is the basic necessity that sustains life on earth. It is the building block of the human body, and we cannot survive without it. According to the US geological survey, about 71 per cent of the earth’s surface is covered with water. However, only 2.5 per cent of this water is available as freshwater for humans, animals, agricultural, industrial, domestic, and other usage while the remaining 97.5 per cent is saline water present in oceans and seas. This freshwater is available in the form of rivers, lakes, glaciers, streams, and underground aquifers, etc. Freshwater availability depends on the hydrological/water cycle that drives the conversion of water from a specific form to another that is water from the ground to atmosphere and back again in a cyclic manner. However, the hydrological/water cycle has been badly disturbed due to climate change in recent years, resulting in reduced levels of freshwater availability and increasing the sea water levels..
In Pakistan, agriculture is the largest economic sector which contributes 24 per cent to the GDP. The country is the fifth most populated country and around 40 per cent of its labour force is linked with the agriculture sector. As the largest economic sector, agriculture in Pakistan consumes over 70 per cent of the freshwater available in rivers, canals, glaciers, and underground water through tube well pumping. Water consumption is of course unavoidable at the moment but there are huge losses linked to the agriculture in the form of conveyance, equity, seepage, etc.
Recently, the agriculture sector has undergone a massive shock in the form of floods resulting from irregular monsoon rains induced by climate change. This catastrophic situation has displaced 33 million people from their houses. Huge losses were incurred by the agriculture sector keeping in terms of both livestock and crop losses. These events not only affected people’s lives but also destroyed their livelihoods. The food supply chain of the country has been disrupted and the price of basic necessities has shot up, making life difficult for the masses. The events of this year have proven that there needs to be improved water management and stewardship, and that our agricultural practices need to be more sustainable and resilient to withstand such shocks.
WWF-Pakistan has been working on water and sustainable agriculture over the past two decades. Water needs to be conserved for the survival of our future generations. For this purpose, various on-farm and off-farm water management interventions has been introduced to overcome these water losses. Irrigation losses are the most prominent ones in the agriculture sector as fields are irrigated through earthen water channels or courses which lead to seepage and breakage losses. It is estimated that 47 to 53 per cent of irrigation water is lost in earthen water courses due to over silting and earthen nature of channels. To overcome such type of losses, Precast Concrete Parabolic Segments (PCPS) were introduced. This intervention has led to a massive reduction in conveyance losses and also normalized the water equity issues from the source.
Moreover, agriculture land is ploughed several times around the year which makes the surface uneven because of which water is not distributed evenly along the field. Laser land levelling is an approach used to level the field with higher accuracies which results in even distribution of water throughout the field and also increases productivity while reducing overall water use in the field.
In connection to that livestock dung is a major problem in the villages and farm settlements, most importantly it is responsible for methane emission, a dangerous Greenhouse Gas (GHG). WWF-Pakistan is utilizing bio fermenters which are being constructed at the water channels where excessive cow dung is used to produce bio-manure to increase the soil organic matter and nutrients of the soil which help in reducing the usage of synthetic fertilizers. It also improves the water holding capacity of the soil which subsequently enhances the on-farm water saving potential.
To conclude, water is the basic component of life on land. Awareness about water scarcity is a point to ponder on at this moment. Public and private sectors should join hands to create mass awareness especially in the farming communities, since they consume most of the country’s freshwater to grow crops. The problem is not with the system, rather it is with us because we are the ones who are producing and consuming the resources at an unsustainable rate. Saving our natural resources for the future of a healthy, living planet requires collective action because “together possible.”
Pakistan is currently facing the brutal impacts of climate change. This year only, we have faced an exceptionally hot and dry spring followed by high frequencies of rainfall in the monsoon season resulting in floods and hill torrents in the southern part of the country. At the start of the monsoon, we faced urban flooding in the big cities of Pakistan, such as in Karachi. Last year, the country's capital, Islamabad, was under water due to a cloud burst, the effects of which were exacerbated by encroachment on floodplains. Due to flash flooding and hill torrents, all the provinces of Pakistan are facing severe floods. Earlier this monsoon, Karachi was under water, the infrastructure was damaged, and stagnant water demolished the roads, suburbs and affected the coastal communities. As per the World Bank report (2019), climate change is affecting Pakistan and the country needs USD 7-14 billion for climate change adaptation, including USD 2-3.8 billion in the Indus delta alone to reduce flood vulnerability.
The flood season in Pakistan is not new, but its intensity and frequency is increasing. This year, according to NDMA statistics, approximately over 100 districts from all four provinces have been affected by flood water, with more than 1000 casualties, 2 million acres of crops impacted, and 719,000 livestock lost. Federal and provincial governments as well as other private NGOs and welfare organizations are quite active in handling this nationwide crisis, while the media is playing its role by covering stories of the affected areas and communities.
The urban flooding is caused by natural and artificial interventions. In a natural way, due to climate change, high intensity rainfall for a short duration causes urban flooding. In artificial or human interventions, the encroachments, choking of nullahs with solid waste, and uneven drains are the major factors. The issue of concern is that the rainfall pattern and urban flooding are disturbing the infrastructure in the urban areas and it may damage the foundations of big buildings and skyscrapers and will cause a big loss to the economy.
We need to take immediate actions for handling the floodwater by all means. Our National Water Policy (2019) and Climate Change Policy (2012) support water reservoirs and flood risk management, but we need to come up with practical solutions to handle super floods, which happen once in a 100 years. The floodplains, in that scenario, play an important role just like water absorbents. A combination of engineering solutions as well as Nature Based Solutions (NbS) is the best option to handle the floods. The introduction of artificial lakes, wetlands and artificial recharge in urban areas is an optimistic approach to adopt.
We need to promote storage of rainwater by reservoirs, at a larger scale as well as at the community level, which can handle the water shortage problems and people can get benefits in a dry region. The flood water can be handled by reducing its velocity or diverting into different sites, such as giving Zigzag pathways to reduce its velocity in order to reduce impacts.
To mitigate the impacts of urban flooding in big cities like Lahore, there was a concept of “Doongi grounds” (the playgrounds in depressions). Here the idea was to capture the surplus water in the rainy season and seep down slowly so that it contributes to the sustainability of aquifers. A similar kind of concept can be modified to capture the rainwater in the plain areas where the water can be captured in the metropolitans and can be used for recharge and other purposes.
After every flood, scientists and engineers share their analysis and we need to understand the dynamics of the floods in order to avoid the same mistake in the future. The 2010 floods were caused by a phenomenon called the ‘blocking event’ in which north-west air and south-east air met. NASA studied the weather patterns that caused the 2010 floods and concluded that Russian wildfires which occurred at the same time as the floods in Pakistan were caused by stagnant weather patterns in the atmosphere — known as a blocking event (NFPP-IV, 2015). Similarly, this year before flooding, there was a dry spring and then heavy flooding impacted the communities in the floodplains. One thing which is common in every flooding season is the encroachments in floodplains. The government should take immediate actions to implement NFPP-IV, national water policy actions, because we may expect more floods in the coming future.
We also need to engage corporate businesses in order to handle the floods (in adaptation and mitigation work). In the modern world, there are crop insurance and land insurance tools, so the corporate sector can play a vital role in collaboration with the government to handle flood risks. We need to come up with a proactive approach to handling floods instead of waiting for some miracle..
Mr. Naqvi is an Engineer and practitioner who has more than 15 years of experience in the Water and Environment domain nationally and internationally. He is working in WWF-Pakistan as Head of the Freshwater Programme. He represents Pakistan at several international forums in the water and sustainability domain.
Written by Sohail Ali Naqvi, Senior Manager Freshwater Programme, WWF-Pakistan
Despite climate change, water shortage, and the limited availability of land, current global food production is still enough to feed the entire world population. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), approximately 40 per cent of the world’s total land area is used for agricultural purposes and according to WWF-UK, this 40 per cent is enough to feed the 2.5 billion people around the globe.
However, one-third of all food produced goes to waste. Approximately 931 million tonnes of food is wasted from retail, food service outlets and households.
As of late, food loss and waste (FLW) is trending globally as it is linked with food insecurity, climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, etc. FLW is not only creating more food insecurity but is also contributing to climate change as about 10 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions come from FLW, the third largest source of emissions.
The situation varies between developed and developing countries. Food insecurity is higher in underdeveloped countries and developing countries including Pakistan, Zambia, Afghanistan, etc. However, research suggests that FLW is higher in developed countries where food is easily available, accessible and affordable to consumers who have higher per capita incomes. These consumers store more food, eventually throwing it away and wasting it.
In the United States, 10 per cent of the energy budget is spent on transporting food alone. About 40 per cent of food is lost or wasted and eventually ends up in landfills, contributing to methane emissions which are 30 times worse and more damaging to the environment than Co2.
Waste collection mechanisms also differ across countries. Developed countries have waste collection systems with state of the art machinery for processing, segregation and disposal at monitored landfill sites. However, in underdeveloped countries waste is collected in an unsegregated way and disposed directly at the landfill sites, where it remains untouched. To tackle this circular food economy is a new way of tackling food loss and waste; a process whereby segregated waste from households, the hospitality sector, farms, food processing industries, etc. is collected, transported and processed for clean energy production. Energy from this can be harnessed for supporting the prevailing global energy crisis.
Bio-gas is an excellent example. As a ‘green fuel’, this can be used to produce electricity, run our vehicles and be used to meet our daily fuel needs. On the other hand, using conventional means of converting food waste via composting in the form organic manure as an alternative to synthetic fertilizers and to wood burning could be used to curtail FLW.
Segregation of produce is also a major issue at the farm level which leads to less income and more losses. Packaging is also a point of major concern that supports food loss as materials used for packaging are not sustainable, especially in developing countries like Pakistan, where wooden crates are used for primary storage and for transportation of fresh produce to the market. These wooden boxes have rough surfaces and can easily puncture the perishable fruits and vegetables, thus contributing to food loss. Transportation is a crucial aspect of the food supply chain. Stacking and lack of arable containers while transportation of food commodities also leads to food contamination, early ripening of fresh produce and loss of natural resources. Linked to this is food preservation, salting, drying, fermentation, etc., which can facilitate in reducing hunger by providing food to people who do not have access to safe, healthy and nutritious food.
And finally, human practices and consumption patterns are a major contributor. With large amounts of food being wasted in the hospitality sector and at the household level, awareness and behavior change communication is crucial. Awareness among farmers, retailers, distributors, and consumers (including the hospitality sector), along with other stakeholders, is important in making the supply chain more sustainable and making food distribution more equitable.
Written by Adil Daniel, Coordinator of Food Security and Water Stewardship, WWF-Pakistan.
Evolution of ‘climate change’
Climate change is a term that has evolved significantly. Traditionally, we have studied the impacts of climate change on our atmosphere and our earth's weather systems within a scientific discourse. Only relatively recently, over the last 30 years, has the term climate change spread beyond the traditional scientific domain and entered the realm of socio-political and economic spheres. In the last few years, humans have started investigating the ramifications of climate change on societies, economies, political systems, and religious and cultural norms, and building an understanding about how these impacts are shaping our future.
An important aspect of this investigation is the impact of climate change on women and marginalized communities. While the definitions may vary from one geographic region to another, or from one socio-political setup to another, the underlying theme of this very important discussion remains consistent – climate-induced impacts on women and marginalized communities distort the fabric of societies and impede sustainable development across the globe. It has been witnessed that climate-induced pressures on water resources, agriculture, public health, industries, and other fabrics of our lives, impact the position of a woman in terms of her accessibility to information, security, social services such as public health and education, and importantly in contesting to be an equal member of an economic system.
Impacts of climate change on women of marginalized communities in Pakistan
As a Project Officer working for the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-Pakistan), I have been able to garner deep insight about the impacts of climate change on women, especially in the marginalized communities of Pakistan. I have witnessed the vulnerabilities of women in the strata of our society where climate-induced pressures on a woman impede her personal development and growth, and restrict her from being a healthy and active member of society.
Women are the first to be impacted by variations in the availability of water, either for domestic consumption or for agriculture, and are the ones who are impacted the most by the health implications of drinking poor quality water. While the effects of climate change have in fact broad dynamics, the focus of this discussion is mainly on the climate-induced pressures on water resources and the implications of it on women.
The gender dimension of water and climate change
One of the most significant aspects of global warming is that it alters the water cycle - which induces climate-related pressures through water invariability – in simpler words, either too much or too little of water when needed. This invariably leads to some regions receiving higher volumes of water in the form of floods, while others experience more dry conditions, even droughts.
To add to the climate-induced vulnerabilities, exponential population growth in Pakistan is leading to over-abstraction of water, which is stressing the groundwater resources of the country. As a result of groundwater depletion, which is occurring at alarming rates, some regions of Pakistan are now identified as ‘water-stressed’, and are verging towards becoming ‘water-scarce’ in the near future if no prompt actions are taken into consideration.
This drastic variability in the availability of good quality water is where the disparity has started hitting the marginalized communities of Pakistan, making the lives of women even more burdened in terms of bearing the arduous responsibility of collecting and providing water for their households. The absence of a safe water supply at or near their homes—and the resulting need to walk up to several kilometres to get water each day—has aggravated the burden on women, making them vulnerable in terms of both their health and personal safety.
There is a high proportion of women in such communities where basic Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) facilities are non-existent, resulting in daily struggles to maintain the health of their households, feed their children, meet the basic necessities of life, and perform their household duties in a dignified manner. Some of them often live in denial of the grim realities of climate change, while others live in a tormenting acceptance of reality.
A silver lining
Despite these adverse conditions, there is hope. I come across women with the determination to keep moving forward and to push the odds and the invisible barriers imposed by climate change, often unknown to them. These women keep the cycle of the economy and life itself moving. Imagine, when such resilient women are empowered with awareness, they can lead the way for healthy and sustainable growth and become the backbone of our economic and social success.
Some of the recent work I have been engaged in with WWF-Pakistan includes the provision of clean and safe drinking water in the urban slums and peri-urban communities of Punjab. This includes harnessing rainwater through collection systems to provide accessible water for secondary uses, such as cooking and washing. Additionally, I have been educating women on how to conserve water at the household level, and have given them awareness about personal healthcare practices.
My work and the voice of these women from the communities has also resonated beyond borders, as I highlighted the significance of this discussion for developing countries like Pakistan as a part of my speech at the UN 66th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, held in early March 2022.
When it comes to the environment, we are all stakeholders. This is why WWF believes in ‘together possible’. It is only with collective commitment that we can lead a path towards sustainability and provide protection to women against climate-induced pressures, particularly those related to water resources, which will ultimately be the key to a sustainable economy.
Written by Amra Tahir, Project Officer-Social Mobilizer with the Freshwater Programme at WWF-Pakistan
Plastic has long been termed as the most notorious pollutant out there, from littering land, to choking waterways, eventually stumbling its way to our seas and oceans; where it remains ever present. A quick statistical snapshot shows that, in recent years, global plastic production has risen to approximately 400 million tonnes annually; from this, 12 per cent is incinerated, whereas only nine percent is recycled. The remaining plastic is either disposed-off into landfills or released into the environment; with studies indicating that approximately thirteen million metric tons of plastic ends up in oceans each year – “equivalent to a garbage truck load every minute”. Owing to this rapid rate of plastic waste dumping, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the year 2050. Beyond these staggering statistics, an even greater threat that lurks within the realms of plastics is its relatively smaller version: the microplastics.
While plastic products on average take hundreds of years to decompose completely, their gradual break-up leads to the formation of ‘plastic debris’ or ‘microplastics’; the latter measuring less than 5 millimetres in size. This degradation of larger plastic material like bottles, polythene bags and discarded fishing nets add up to 70 per cent of the microplastics in marine ecosystems. Whereas, the remaining 31 per cent (labelled as primary), are those that have intentionally been designed small, such as microbeads used in cosmetics and personal care products or textile microfibres. At present, there are an estimated 51 trillion microplastic pieces in the world’s seas and oceans. On Pakistan’s front, reports conclude that the river Indus carries around 10,000 metric tons of microplastics annually to the Arabian Sea, in addition to other plastics, including potentially hazardous waste. Similarly, a study along Karachi’s Clifton Beach identified approximately 300 pieces of micro-plastics per just one gram of sand.
Clearly, there is no denying the enormity of the situation, but the question remains: why is the presence of microplastics (especially in marine ecosystems), such a tremendous threat? The answer is simple: not only do plastics hang in the environment for long periods (remaining available for uptake), but they are also composed of a complex combination of harmful chemicals and additives. Therefore, besides the visible destruction of natural systems that they wreak, microplastics prove to be highly detrimental to both marine and human health.
As for humans; microplastics remain a constant feature in our lives and on our tables. From the water we drink, the (sea)food we consume, to the condiments (humans ingest several hundred microplastic particles per year just through the ingestion of salt) that we season it with, all contain varying levels of microplastics. On average a single person ingests five grams of micro/nano plastics every week; that is akin the weight of a credit card. Overtime, the accumulation of these plastics in the body, can lead to chemical toxicity, triggering numerous health problems, such as inflammatory responses in tissues, cancer, infertility and organ/cell damage. A recent study indicates that for the very first time microplastics have also been found in human blood; with their presence in 80% of the sampled population. Signifying the extent to the invasiveness of these tiny particles.
In marine wildlife, this impact becomes manifold. While macro-plastics lead to negative impacts through entanglement in items like abandoned fishing nets, ropes and plastic bags leading to strangulation, choking hazards, wounding, and restricted movement. Microplastics impact marine life more discreetly, from predators at the apex, down to the plankton at the base of the food chain. This includes both physical and chemical interactions, as a result of microplastic ingestion through breathing or food uptake. Once inside microplastics shut off the tracts of the animal’s digestive system – diminishing their urge to eat, suppressing their growth, immunity and disrupting the reproductive system; ensued from the toxicity of the absorbed substances. What’s worse is that this impact does not remain isolated, rather it continues to circulate within the intricate webs of the ecosystem; magnifying and accumulating.
As a result, each year, plastic waste kills an estimated one million seabirds, 100,000 sea mammals, marine turtles and countless fish. The carnage however does not stop there; marine habitats such as mangroves have been measured to have the highest plastic waste densities in the world, which not only inhibits plant growth but remains a continuing threat to the marine biodiversity that it houses. Added to which the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) further estimates that plastic pollution causes an impact of US$ 8 billion to the blue economy, annually.
Dwelling on all the evidence on microplastics and its related complexities, it becomes vital that in order to overcome this plastic crisis, there must be a collaborative effort within the country (vis-à-vis non/governmental organisations, businesses and consumers) and through regional and international cooperation. Addressing the plastic problem at its root, through streamlining the entirety of its lifecycle including production, design and especially disposal and promotion of reusable/recyclable products and materials.
Although, much of the recycling in Pakistan takes place at a more informal level by waste-pickers. In recent times, the country has garnered momentum in plastics-related policymaking; in the shape of banning single use plastics and working on initiatives such as “Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)”, and the “National Plastic Action Partnership” to curb plastic pollution and enhance public responsibility. In a similar vein, WWF-Pakistan over the years has continuously strived through its work on ventures such as: “Tackling Pakistan’s Plastic Pollution”, “Beat Plastic Pollution Campaign” and “Plastic Alliance (CoRe),” just to name a few, in order to create public awareness, build-up local capacity to manage plastics, and bring together relevant stakeholders on board to help reduce the environmental impact of plastics more effectively. An important milestone (yet to be achieved), has been initiated on the global level at the UN Environment Assembly (5.2) that convened in Nairobi, Kenya this year, where governments adopted a resolution – “End Plastic Pollution: Towards an Internationally Legally Binding Instrument”, to be drafted and agreed upon by the year 2024. It remains to be seen how successfully both the local and global interventions will trickle down to and bring change where it matters most. In the meanwhile, it is crucial that each person plays their part by embracing responsible consumption and end-of-life interventions to plastics, no matter how macro or micro it is.
Written by Fatimah Mahmood, Project Officer , Climate & Energy Program, 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.
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)
“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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.