Sustainable strategies urged for mountain biodiversity conservation

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DNA

Islamabad – The subject experts of national webinar on “State of Pakistan’s Mountain Biodiversity” urged the federal and provincial governments to take stern action against the land and timber mafia causing irreparable loss to the mountain biodiversity. The land-use is being changed in violation of the respective legislation and international treaties and conventions while the government authorities remain silent and blind. The mountain biodiversity loss is causing disasters and increasing local impact of climate change.

They urged for biodiversity mapping and adequate data management to support the conservation strategies for all 11 mountain ranges in Pakistan. In the absence of federal and provincial biodiversity conservation strategies, we cannot think beyond scattered piece-meal interventions. No systems of solid waste management and sewage treatment, and irresponsible tourism and mountaineering also adding to the vulnerability of biodiversity hotspots.

The national webinar was organized by the Development Communications Network (Devcom Pakistan) and DTN in connection with 10th Pakistan Mountain Festival to mark the International Mountain Day on Saturday. The panel of experts included Senior Scientific Advisor Ev-K2-CNR Ashiq Ahmed Khan, FAO Pakistan Deputy Country Representative Farrukh Toirov, World Bank Senior Technical Advisor on tourism Kiran Afzal, Water and Climate Change Expert Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, WWF Pakistan Senior Director Biodiversity Rab Nawaz, AKRSP former General Manager Muzaffaruddin, SDPI Director Environment Dr. Imran S. Khalid, and Executive Director Devcom-Pakistan Munir Ahmed.

FAO Pakistan Deputy Country Representative Farrukh Toirov said about 60 per cent of Pakistan is mountainous, and 50 percent of what are the biodiversity hotspots and 30 percent key biodiversity areas. Mountains cover 27 percent of the earth’s land surface, provide 60-80 percent of the freshwater 60-80%, hydro and wind energy, and food. About 15 percent of the world’s population reside in mountain areas and most of it lives below the poverty-line and one out of two faces the threat of food insecurity.

Senior Scientific Advisor Ev-K2-CNR Ashiq Ahmed Khan urged the government to have national mountains biodiversity to fill up the serious gaps for biodiversity conservation including research, data, indigenous knowledge and cultural practices. Mountaineers have dumped tons of waste in the base-camps and on the routes to the mountain tops. We need to have mechanisms to handle it too. He suggested having biospheres instead of National Parks.

Mr Toirov suggested six pointed action agenda to combat the challenges confronting the mountains biodiversity including increased investment in research and sound data collection, enhanced local capacities to reduce biodiversity loss, to inform policy makers to promote, inform policy makers to promote conservation actions and increase the resilience of mountain communities, engage and advocate with conventions, networks and movements, support sustainable agriculture in mountains to reverse agro-biodiversity loss, and promote indigenous knowledge and its role in maintaining mountain biodiversity, agro-ecosystems and improving food security.

World Bank Group Senior Technical Advisor Kiran Afzal said the World Bank projects are promoting responsible tourism by engaging communities and the corporate sector to reduce and recycle solid waste. Private sector needs to be sensitized to take up conservation approaches.

Water and Climate Change expert Ali Tauqeer Sheikh said rapidly increasing population and absence of resource management is the big challenge for the entire country. Loss of mountain biodiversity is causing scarcity of water resources even in the hubs of glaciers. Excessive use of fertilizers and GMO seeds also harming the fragile ecosystems of mountains. The scattered piece-meal approach would not work for the mountain conservation efforts. The Upper Indus water basin 70 percent depends on Kabul river flow, and we have no clue how to benefit from the early river-flows because of climatic changes in the mountains across the border.

WWF Pakistan Senior Director Biodiversity suggested to have a centre of excellence in mountain research, and to have qualified experts in mountains biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. We don’t have an integrated master plan to use the mountain resources.

AKRSP former General Manager Muzaffaruddin said the mountain communities should be subsidized for the environmental services. The communities should be engaged in conservation and tourism while the value chain should be a priority for the agricultural and horticultural products. CPEC has imposed immense threat to the local environment but still there is no clarity on it.

SDPI Director Environment and Climate Change Dr. Imran S Khalid said that in the absence of a baseline study on mountain biodiversity it is hard to comment on the specific conservation strategies. Conservation and quality of life is directly related to each other. Improved quality of life would help improve conservation in more sustainable fashion. Development initiatives in the mountains should have adequate and elaborated environmental impact assessment.