Sustaining Cetacean Harmony by Enhancing Conservation Measures in Pakistan
© WWF-Pakistan

The breathtaking vastness of our oceans hides a world of wonders, with cetaceans like the awe-inspiring blue whale commanding attention. These majestic creatures, spanning up to 33.6 meters (110 feet) in length and weighing a colossal 190 tonnes, belong to a family encompassing whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Sadly, human-induced activities cast a shadow over these charismatic giants, declining their populations and threatening the vibrancy of our oceans.

Understanding the Importance of Cetaceans

Cetaceans, the unsung heroes in the fight against climate change, play a pivotal role by sequestering carbon in their bodies and transferring it to the ocean floor upon their demise. A single whale can store an impressive 33 tonnes of CO2, surpassing the annual absorption rate of a tree by far. Their presence helps maintain the balance in marine ecosystems as top predators, preventing disruptions in the food chain. Moreover, their biological processes, such as the 'Whale Pump,' release essential nutrients into the water, nurturing the foundation of marine life, the phytoplankton.

Facing Challenges and Threats

Despite their ecological significance, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) paints a grim picture, with numerous cetacean species classified as endangered or vulnerable. Threats loom large, from ingesting microplastic or entangled in fishing nets at ocean surface water leading to mortality and injuries, from boat strikes and ocean noise pollution disrupting their communication to climate-induced changes in prey distribution and habitat destruction due to human activities.

The Grim Reality of Bycatch in Pakistan

In Pakistan's waters, bycatch, especially in gillnets, poses a significant threat to cetaceans. Reports reveal the entanglement of species such as the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins and black finless porpoises, often leading to fatalities. Moreover, incidents of whales like the Blue and Bryde’s whales and various beaked whales getting ensnared have surfaced, raising alarms about the species' vulnerability; 1-4 dolphins were enmeshed in each fishing trip of tuna gillnet fisheries in 2013, which turned to almost zero by 2018 resulted in the shift in fishing gear settings, which is a success. Yet again, the scale of bycatch of cetaceans in gillnet coastal fisheries is still uncertain. 

A Cultural Stance and Path to Mitigation

While Pakistan prohibits the consumption of cetaceans, past practices like harpooning dolphins and porpoises for traditional purposes linger in memory. Yet, the positive efforts of fishermen in rescuing entangled species demonstrate a shared commitment to marine conservation.

Mitigating Bycatch and Promoting Conservation

Addressing bycatch involves raising awareness, implementing monitoring protocols, and encouraging behavioral shifts in fishing practices, integrating tools like Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs) and electronic monitoring aids in minimizing bycatch. Moreover, sensitizing fishing communities towards safe handling and reporting of bycatch is pivotal for successful conservation efforts.

WWF-Pakistan’s Contribution to Cetacean Conservation

WWF-Pakistan is at the forefront of cetacean conservation, conducting comprehensive surveys, engaging with fishing communities, and advocating for protecting Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs) in Pakistan's waters. Their collaborative efforts aim to raise awareness, gather critical data, and adopt conservation-friendly practices to secure the future of these magnificent marine species.


Moving Towards a Shared Future

The urgency to protect cetaceans demands collective action. By embracing sustainable fishing practices, prioritizing conservation efforts, and supporting communities dependent on marine resources, we can safeguard the survival of these endangered species. WWF-Pakistan’s relentless dedication is a beacon of hope, emphasizing the need for concerted efforts to protect Pakistan's marine biodiversity and sustain healthy oceans.

Written by Shoaib Abdul Razzaque, Coordinator Marine Programme, WWF-Pakistan. 

Rethinking Water Management - Now or Never

Imagine cities that value every drop of water. Imagine cities where rain is not just an extreme weather phenomenon but a resource to be cherished. Imagine cities that work efficiently towards reducing their burden on traditional water sources. Such cities play a pivotal role, not just in responsible water consumption, but also in inspiring residents to  adopt water sensitive practices - a profound yet simple concept which lies at the heart of sustainable urban development.

Cities with their water-sensitive elements are more than just dots on a map, they are vibrant, pulsating centers of life. They are the crucibles of development. Yet, amidst their dynamism, cities face challenges, such as rapid urbanization that ensue environmental woes – the biggest of which is water scarcity. In an article by Nature, Chunyang He discussed how urban areas are facing an alarming decline in water resources, making it imperative for us to rethink how we manage this precious resource.

Internationally, cities like Melbourne, Australia, and Tokyo, Japan, have implemented innovative water conservation strategies, setting the stage for a global movement towards water-sensitive urban planning. According to Dr. Anna Hurliman, an Associate Professor at University of Melbourne, integrating sustainable urban water management into the very fabric of our cities not only equips us to face these challenges head-on but also paves the way for a harmonious coexistence with nature. By doing so, we are not only securing a sustainable oasis for our present but also for the generations that will follow.

Pakistan is experiencing a strain on its water resources due to mismanagement, high demand, and depleting underground sources. The per capita availability of freshwater has drastically declined over the years, indicating a pressing issue in water resource management. According to Waseem Ishaque, Director Area Study Centre, NUML, Islamabad, the population growth in Pakistan, is expected to reach 250 million by 2025, further exacerbating the problem, leading to a projected decrease in per capita water availability. He stated that Pakistan had a per capita water availability of 5,000 m3 in 1951, which fell to 1,100 m3 in 2005, and by 2025, it is expected to fall to 800 m3.

Taking the importance of sustainable urban water management into account, WWF-Pakistan under the Australia-Pakistan Water Security Initiative (APWASI) is pioneering a transformative change, in the heart of Pakistan. This initiative embodies the spirit of water sensitivity in two underprivileged communities of James Town, Rawalpindi, and Farash Town, Islamabad. Through rainwater harvesting systems, filtration units, ablution water (greywater) reuse systems, recharge interventions and green spaces that capture and harvest rainwater, APWASI is striving for regular water supply and conservation within this urban landscape.

Implementing these initiatives was not devoid of challenges. From initial resistance to adapting to new technologies, communities faced hurdles. To overcome these challenges successfully, WWF-Pakistan has prioritized community engagement and education. This has been achieved through the establishment of community-based organizations (CBOs) and village organizations (VOs), coupled with regular monthly sessions of the community members, dedicated to raising awareness and fostering community participation. Also, for various decision-makings and discussions, Focused Group Discussion (FGDs), CBO and VO meetings, collaborate and co-lead sessions, co-design sessions, information and consultation sessions, and key informant interviews are conducted regularly. This strategic approach not only helps to overcome the challenges related to community involvement but also empowers individuals, fostering a sense of ownership and unity within these neighborhoods.

Looking ahead, it’s crucial for cities worldwide to adopt similar water-sensitive practices. Government policies need to be drafted or revised to encourage and incentivize businesses and residents alike. Innovations in water purification and harvesting technologies are on the horizon, promising even more sustainable solutions.

As residents, we play a crucial role. Simple changes in daily habits, such as fixing leaks promptly or installing water-efficient appliances, can make a significant impact. Getting involved in local community initiatives, supporting policies that promote water conservation, and spreading awareness are key to this. The collective efforts of individuals can transform our cities into thriving, water-sensitive havens.

Embracing water sensitivity isn't merely a choice, it’s a necessity. It’s about reimagining and rethinking our cities, making them not just sustainable but livable and resilient communities where every drop counts. The journey begins with awareness, education, and most importantly, action. Let’s make our cities the pioneers of a water-sensitive future, where water is not just a resource but a lifeline, cherished by all.

By Maryam Eqan, Officer Water Sensitive Cities and Farah Nadeem, Manager Water Security, WWF-Pakistan

From Farms to Buildings: Three decades of Lahore’s urbanization
The transformation of Lahore district’s land use land cover between 1990 and 2020. Data Source: Mapped and processed using Landsat Satellite imagery by Richard Garstang Conservation GIS Lab, WWF-Pakistan
© WWF-Pakistan

Lahore, the vibrant capital of the Punjab province, is one of the most densely populated districts of Pakistan with over 12 million residents. It boasts a rich cultural history and holds a significant place in national heritage, with economic activity in the area dating back to over 2,000 years. Since the birth of Pakistan, people from all over the country have flocked to Lahore seeking better educational, economic, and social opportunities.
Known for their spirit, the people of Lahore are often referred to as ‘Zinda Dilan-e-Lahore’ (the zealous of Lahore), who find themselves in a rich brew of culture, history, tradition and unrivaled charm. But today, living in Lahore comes with its own challenges. Over the course of a given year, the city’s residents brave through heat waves, urban flooding and smog, among other environmental disasters.
In the 67 years between 1951 and 2017, the population of Lahore district increased by almost 880 percent (increasing from 1,134,757 to 11,119,985, as per the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics).
This rapid population growth has led to swift urbanisation and a shift in land use, from agricultural and open areas to impervious surfaces, especially in Lahore district. This imbalance between green spaces and concrete has led to environmental degradation, increasing energy costs, air pollution levels, heat-related illnesses and the risk of flash floods.
The rapid expansion of urban areas in Lahore district is alarming and a matter of great concern, as it is taking over rich and fertile agricultural land, natural habitats and open spaces. A Remote Sensing and GIS-based research conducted by WWF-Pakistan's Richard Garstang Conservation GIS Laboratory has revealed that the built-up area of Lahore district has increased from 268.8 sq-km to 720.5 sq-km, with an average annual growth rate of 15 sq-km over the last 30 years (1990-2020). This research also revealed that the expansion of urban areas is predominantly taking place on fertile agricultural land. The vegetation cover of the district (shown in below figure) has decreased from 1,307 sq-km to 904 sq-km at an average annual rate of 13.43 sq-km during the same period (i.e. 1990-2020).

The extensive conversion of vegetation into concrete has spurred the increase of the land surface temperature of the city. Several research findings reveal that there has been a rising trend in both the minimum and maximum temperatures during the coldest and warmest months in the Lahore district. These rising temperatures have also created an increase in the demand for electricity for cooling and air conditioning, as well as more frequent urban heat island effect events in the city.

The increasing construction of impervious surfaces such as roads, buildings and other infrastructure over open spaces and natural drains is causing soil sealing, which refers to changes in the nature of the soil such that it behaves as an impermeable medium, often resulting in flooding due to the reduced absorption of rainwater. In recent years, heavy rainfall events have caused significant flooding in the city, disrupting daily life, damaging property and infrastructure, and posing a threat to public health and safety.

Further, this swift increase in population and built-up area has impacted the water table and water quality of Lahore. Impervious surfaces reduce the amount of water that can infiltrate into the ground.

Consequently, more rainwater runs off into stormwater drains and rivers and streams, rather than replenishing groundwater resources. According to the Water and Sanitation Agency’s (WASA) records, the availability of drinkable groundwater in Lahore has significantly decreased over the years. Water which was accessible at a depth of 200 feet in 1980 now requires a depth of at least 800 feet (Express Tribune March 25, 2022). Research has also revealed that 24 per cent of Lahore’s residents are consuming contaminated water with arsenic, exposing them to grave health hazards (Express Tribune November, 2020).

Construction activities, which have risen dramatically in Lahore city in recent years, are also considered the third most significant contributor to the region’s notorious air pollution. According to an annual global survey by a Swiss manufacturer of air purifiers, Lahore has jumped more than 10 places to become the city with the worst air quality in the world in 2022.

To address these issues, and make Lahore a more sustainable and livable city, a multi-faceted and comprehensive approach is required. Urban planners and policymakers must adopt strategies such as strict land-use regulations to protect agricultural land and green spaces, promote green infrastructure, and enhance urban drainage systems.

Furthermore, advanced tools and technologies especially remote sensing and GIS should be used, as these are extremely helpful to regularly measure and spatially monitor urban growth patterns and land use change to identify areas under high urban expansion pressure and assess the impact of urbanization on natural resources.

By Muhammad Asif, Coordinator GIS and Somia Asim, GIS Officer, Richard Garstang Conservation GIS Lab, WWF-Pakistan

Lahore can be the most sustainable city in Pakistan by 2050

Lahore can most certainly be referred to as the cultural hub of Pakistan. The city is famous for its historical gardens, gates, the ‘Walled City’. A bird’s eye view of Lahore would most certainly be a mosaic art piece where centuries old infrastructure is smoothly blending in with more recently constructed buildings. However, Lahore today has its fair share of challenges as well and one such challenge is an exponential growth in its population. In-fact, as per the Government of Pakistan’s finance division, Lahore had a population of slightly over five million in 1998 which then exponentially increased to over 11 million in 2017 [2]. That’s a remarkable increase of 116.3 per cent in population which cannot be considered as sustainable growth over a span of two decades. This rapid increase in population is putting a huge stress on the limits of the city to satisfy food, energy, water and transport needs for its residents. However, with much needed positive steps in the right direction, we can sustainably satisfy the basic needs of a rapidly increasing population in Lahore city.

Tapping into Solar Power Generation

World Bank Group says if we would use just 0.071 per cent of Pakistan’s geographical area for solar PV installation and power generation, we can easily satisfy an existing electricity demand in the country [3]. As a city, Lahore has an annual photovoltaic electricity production of 1411 KWh/kWp which is still incredibly high. Thus, electricity production in Lahore through solar PV systems can facilitate Pakistan in reducing its electricity shortfall during peak hours [4]. Now imagine a scenario where households in Lahore would be able to purchase excellent quality solar PV panels manufactured in Europe, North America and China at an affordable price. There is a dire need that households in the city have the much-needed prior knowledge regarding quality solar PV panels that would last for a long period of time and thus yield higher profit on every rupee invested in purchasing a solar PV system. It is important to point out here that households in Pakistan pay keen attention to pricing of solar PV system [5]. Thus, if the government would somehow ensure that consumers would buy an excellent quality solar PV system at an inexpensive price that can be paid back in 10 years’ time frame, it can really help in maturing rooftop solar PV system technology in Pakistan.

The population of Lahore would most likely be over 22 million by 2050. Now, assuming that five million households in Lahore choose to install a two kilowatt capacity of solar PV system on their roof tops, that would mean 10 million kilowatts of installed roof top solar PV capacity. In terms of gigawatts, it would be a staggering 10 GWs of solar PV capacity. By doing so, we can transform rooftops in Lahore city into small engines of power generation that can mature rooftop solar PV system technology, increase the share of renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gases emission.

Modernizing farming

The government must also focus on swiftly increasing Lahore’s ability to satisfy food demand of its rapidly increasing population. Vertical hydroponic farming is a solution that can really help Lahore city in sustainably utilizing its available resources and thus enhancing its food security. Last year Dubai inaugurated the world’s largest vertical hydroponic farm with an ability to produce one million kilograms of leafy greens on a yearly basis. This vertical hydroponic farm comes in with a price tag of USD 40 million and it uses 95 per cent less water than conventional methods of farming [6]. If Dubai can make it happen, so can Lahore as well. It is important to point out here that traders in Lahore paid 38.57 billion rupees as tax on annual basis from 58 different markets across the city [7]. At the current exchange rate, 38.57 billion rupees would roughly be USD 133 million. The provincial government can use less than one-third of this generated revenue to establish one vertical hydroponic farm in the city. In-fact, Government of Punjab can create a vertical hydroponic industrial area in Lahore city that would have 10 vertical hydroponic farms with an ability to produce 10 million kilograms of leafy greens each year. A 10-year plan where each year the Government of Punjab would establish one vertical hydroponic farm in vertical hydroponic industrial area is realistic and achievable. By doing so, Lahore city would produce 10 million kilograms of leafy greens on annual basis within 10 to 15 years. Most importantly, all this food would be produced with 95 per cent less water than conventional methods of farming.  

Greening the city’s landscape

We cannot leave forests out of equation when it comes to promoting Sustainable Development in Lahore. It is pertinent for Government of Punjab to increase the forest cover in Lahore city. An excellent strategy is to plant trees within city and in its outskirts. No doubt Mall Road is one of the most beautiful roads in the city. In my opinion, the primary reason is the planation of trees on its both sides. Likewise, every road in Lahore can have trees on its both sides. If we can plant trees on Mall Road, we can repeat the same process on every other road in the city.

The length of main and link roads in Lahore city is almost 14,069 kilometres. Similarly, the length of local roads, secondary and primary roads are 12,391 kilometres, 1,217 kilometres and 358 kilometres [8]. Altogether, the total length of roads in Lahore is roughly 28,035 kilometres. Now, if we will plant 350 trees per kilometre on both sides of each road in Lahore city. We can exponentially increase the within city forest cover by over 9.8 million trees. A plantation of 350 trees per kilometre is realistic provided enough policy attention and financial resources are invested in this direction.

Now, imagine that we plant another 2.2 million trees in the outskirts of the city that would encircle Lahore like a ring. Altogether, these 12 million trees would increase the biodiversity, reduce air and noise pollution, increase the rainfall, decrease the surface temperature and promote less use of air-conditioning for cooling in the city [9]. We must understand that trees are a nature-based solution to capture and store carbon dioxide gas from atmosphere. Most importantly, trees are home to birds and insects that plays a vital role when it comes to offering crucial ecosystem products and services.

All the solutions presented here are realistic and possible provided enough policy attention and financial resources are channelized in the right direction. India had an installed solar PV capacity of over 63 GWs at the end of 2022 [10]. Likewise, if Dubai can inaugurate a vertical hydroponic farm, so can Lahore city too. The choice is ours and will always be.

Written by Ayoub Hameedi, Stockholm based policy analyst and founder / Operations Manager of Project Green Earth (  

Monitoring Through the Lens: Using fixed-point photography to combat deforestation and degradation
© WWF-Pakistan

Mangroves, those resilient salt-tolerant plants found in tropical and subtropical regions, offer a myriad of ecological and socio-economic benefits. However, these vital ecosystems face grave threats from human-induced activities and environmental factors, putting their very existence at risk. To counter these challenges and ensure the conservation of mangroves, innovative technological tools have become crucial in monitoring and safeguarding their growth and health.

Efforts such as reforestation and improved management play a critical role in protecting these precious ecosystems. To safeguard the existence of these ecosystems, WWF-Pakistan has been proactive since 1994; collaborating with the Sindh Forest Department, partner organizations, and local communities to initiate various mangrove plantation drives in the Indus Delta.

In addition to reforestation efforts, the effective monitoring of plantations is important for progress assessment, identification of challenges, and making informed decisions. Although satellite imagery is commonly used for monitoring mangroves and tracking progress, it may lack necessary detail required to accurately detect small-scale plantation seedlings. Some very high-resolution commercial satellites can provide imagery for monitoring saplings, however, the cost associated with accessing this data can be quite prohibitive. While traditional methods of monitoring mangroves have proven helpful, they often lack the precision and detail needed for an accurate assessment. Here's where cutting-edge technological tools are revolutionizing conservation efforts, emerging as an indispensable tool that offers a unique perspective into the growth, health, and progress of mangrove plantations.

Among these, fixed-point photography provides an effective, user-friendly and inexpensive solution to monitor a landscape or any intervention by capturing photographs from the same location before, during or after a project. It is widely utilized for monitoring small-scale ecological changes in protected areas worldwide. Fixed-point photography is a way of taking a photograph from exactly the same spot with consistent camera adjustments including focal length, height and bearing angle during each subsequent visit, so to see changes over time. To conduct accurate and consistent fixed-point photography, a diverse set of tools and equipment is essential, including survey maps, GPS devices, a camera, tripod, gimbal head, fish plate, compass, measuring tape, and data recording forms. During the initial stages, survey maps are used to establish reference points and determine the precise positions for capturing photographs from consistent locations during subsequent visits. Additionally, a handheld GPS is used to navigate to each fixed point and record accurate geographic coordinates.

To capture detailed photographs, it is imperative to have a high-resolution digital camera equipped with a suitable lens. In order to capture photographs without the risk of motion blur, the camera is mounted on a tripod with a gimbal that ensures stability and minimizes camera shake. A compass is used to adjust the camera direction by recording the bearing angle to ensure the same orientation for each snapshot on successive visits. The compass is positioned on the fish plate to determine the angle of direction accurately. The measuring tape is also used to adjust the camera's height, ensuring that photographs are taken from the same height from a reference point or ground level. Additionally, data recording forms are essential to document information including geographic coordinates, date and time, nearby localities, and any additional observations or measurements made during each repeating visit. Based on the observations, recorded on data forms and visualization of the captured photographs, the summary of the monitoring visits is developed which helps the project team to assess the progress and challenges and implement modified strategies to make the project activity successful. This technique offers valuable insights for a variety of applications, including forest plantations and landscape monitoring, land use planning, and conservation efforts.

Established in 2001, the Richard Garstang Conservation GIS Lab at WWF-Pakistan, is a pioneer state-of-the-art GIS lab that plays a vital role in conserving nature through effective assessment and monitoring of natural resources using advanced geospatial tools and techniques. For the past two decades, the lab has been actively monitoring mangrove plantations by integrating remote sensing, GIS tools and fixed-point photography. The lab has conducted extensive fixed-point photography surveys to capture the repeated photographs of saplings to monitor the growth, health and progress of mangrove plantations over the years. WWF-Pakistan's pioneering efforts in integrating fixed-point photography with remote sensing and GIS tools have yielded remarkable results.

By consistently monitoring mangrove plantations using this innovative approach, between 2000 and 2023, Pakistan recorded a remarkable feat, expanding its mangrove cover by approximately 15,000 hectares. This achievement sets Pakistan apart as the sole Southeast Asian country to achieve such a milestone in mangrove conservation.

Observations and findings derived through these surveys have helped the project team to adapt and modify strategies including planting techniques, selecting appropriate species or implementing additional measures to enhance the resilience of mangrove ecosystems through new plantations. Furthermore, the sequential photographs captured during the subsequent visits showcase the success of the transformation of degraded areas into thriving mangrove ecosystems. The photographs not only provide visual evidence of the effectiveness of any intervention but also serve as a source of inspiration for further conservation initiatives. Photographs captured during the fixed-point photography survey comprehensively portray the success story of WWF-Pakistan’s mangrove plantations.

As we navigate the challenges of preserving our precious mangroves, one thing is clear - technological tools have become our allies in the fight against deforestation and degradation. With its cost-effectiveness, ease of use, and valuable insights, fixed-point photography is proving to be a powerful weapon in the conservation arsenal. By embracing these advancements and continuously refining our approach, we can secure a brighter future for mangrove ecosystems and the communities that rely on their invaluable services.