Learn more about Pakistan’s biodiversity,
its precious resources and the threats they face.
Ninety-seven per cent of the world’s water is sea water, whereas two per cent is in ice, snow and glaciers. All life on this planet depends on that one per cent of precious freshwater. This is what farming, industry, communities, and all life on land depend on. Freshwater ecosystems are home to around 1 in 10 known animals- from dragonflies to ducks to dolphins, and around half of all fish species.
Today, Pakistan stands below the threshold of a water stressed country with per capita water availability at only 930 cubic metre per annum. Rapid urbanization and industrialization are negatively impacting both the quantity and quality of water resources in the country. There is an urgent need to replenish our natural resources, including groundwater aquifers, and promote the recycling of wastewater after treatment.
Found at the interface between marine and terrestrial ecosystems, mangroves provide diverse species of birds, mammals and fish a unique habitat and protect shorelines, and thus coastal economic activity, from damaging storms, winds, waves and floods. In fact, mangroves are among the most effective natural forms of coastal protection.
But these mangroves are under threat- both anthropogenic and environmental. The total annual grazing pressure on the Indus Delta’s mangroves is approximately 228,000 tonnes; whereas an estimated 20,000 tonnes are used as domestic fuelwood. At the same time, sea intrusion, urbanization and coastal development also pose real threats to this delicate ecosystem.
Oriental white-backed vultures are effective scavengers and play an important ecological role in cleaning up our environment. By locating and consuming the carcasses of dead livestock and wild animals, they rid the landscape of rotten flesh and in doing so, play a key role in controlling the spread of serious diseases to humans and other animals. Vultures can digest meat at any stage of decay and withstand disease, while their bare heads and necks allow them to dig into their food without getting dirty.
However, these birds are critically endangered, with poisoning being one of the major threats to this species. Many livestock owners give their animals an anti-inflammatory drug which is fatal to vultures if consumed via a carcass.
Indigenous to Pakistan’s coastal areas, the greater flamingo plays an important ecological role due to its unique feeding habits. These graceful birds are filter feeders that feed in shallow waters, using their beaks to strain out algae and small crustaceans and using their large feet to stir organisms from the bottom up into the water column. This way, flamingos control the overpopulation of algae and balance the fragile ecosystem.
However, these birds are threatened by rapid urbanization, habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, water contamination, collisions with power lines, and the effects of climate change, which include fluctuation in lake water levels.
Declared a Ramsar site in 1996, the Ucchali wetlands complex is a combination of three independent wetlands: Ucchali, Khabekki and Jahlar. Pakistan is home to over 240 significant wetlands, 19 of which are designated Ramsar sites. A natural marvel, these wetlands serve unique functions, which include protecting and improving water quality; controlling floods; serving as a habitat for biodiversity; and providing food, fuel and livelihoods to communities.
However, our wetlands are under threat from organic and inorganic pollution, overharvesting of resources, unsustainable tourism, and deforestation. In recent years, substantial area has been reclaimed for agriculture and water quality in the lakes has deteriorated, which poses serious hazards to wildlife.
Pakistan is the world’s fifth biggest producer of cotton and the crop contributes to around one per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP). An estimated 1.3 million farmers cultivate cotton on an area of six million acres, covering 15 per cent of the country’s cultivated area. This white fluffy crop is the backbone of the colourful and vibrant textile industry.
Heavy erratic rains, high temperatures, an expanding summer season and a shift in monsoon patterns are some of the direct impacts of climate change that are damaging the quantity and quality of cotton and affecting farmers and their livelihoods.
Recognized by its characteristic corkscrew-shaped horns, the markhor is the largest wild goat in the world and Pakistan’s national animal. Despite their large size, they are skilled climbers and can climb trees and slanted cliffs to look for food and evade predators. They aid in the dispersal of seeds and wild grasses and serve as a food source for some mountain predators.
While conservation efforts are paying off and the markhor population is increasing, they remain highly threatened due to ill-planned development projects, overgrazing from domestic animals, poaching and habitat loss.
Agriculture has an 18.9 per cent share in the gross domestic product (GDP) of Pakistan and engages 42.3 per cent of its labour. Roughly 60 per cent of the population of Pakistan directly or indirectly relies upon rain-fed agriculture that depends on predictable weather patterns.
However, an incessant increase in global temperatures is changing precipitation patterns in Pakistan, including a shift in the monsoon season. Changes in rainfall distribution and intensity are affecting agricultural production, farm livelihoods and agribusiness infrastructure, and are leading to food insecurity. Currently, almost all arable land in Pakistan is under cultivation as the country strives to meet the food security threshold for its rapidly growing population (with an annual increase of approximately two per cent).
Sea turtles play a vital role in maintaining the health of our oceans and balancing the ecosystem. This includes maintaining healthy seagrass beds, providing key habitat to other marine life, helping balance marine food webs, and facilitating nutrient cycling from water to land.
Found in ocean waters, the endangered green turtle is vulnerable to a range of threats in different phases of its life cycle. This includes consumption, illegal trade, poaching from nesting beaches and foraging grounds, accidental catches in most types of marine fisheries, and degradation of habitat. Further, chronic exposure to marine pollutants also results in disease, impaired reproduction, and death.
Declared a national park in 1993, the undulating plains of Deosai stand in stark contrast to the surrounding landscape of narrow valleys and steep mountains. Home to high-altitude wetlands; the park is a biodiversity hotspot, including the critically endangered Himalayan brown bear, the Tibetan red fox, and golden marmots; and is a breeding ground for residential birds and staging ground for migratory birds
However, the area is now being impacted by climate change. In and around Deosai, average temperatures are rising and snowfall patterns are changing. Streams are rivers are affected and there is little grass in the buffer zones to sustain the livestock of nearby villages. This is leading to habitat degradation and contributing to food security issues in the mountains.