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Pakistan’s sustainable development conundrum

By Zuha Siddiqui
August 1st 2012


From the lush green north to the colourful coast in the south; Pakistan’s landscape of 340, 130 square miles presents sights and sounds that enchant the senses. But with a worsening situation of pollution and depletion of the environment, it is not for certain that the country’s future generations will witness the sunset on Hunza’s fertile plains and run their fingers through the silt alongside the banks of the river Indus.

When the world has taken upon the task of ensuring of sustainability and sustainable development – utilising resources in such a manner that their utility is preserved for generations to come – where does Pakistan stand?

The country’s is expanding rapidly and so is its poverty rate. The Benazir Income Support Program citesthe present population to be 175.3 million out of which 45.7 per cent live below the poverty line.

The woes of most of Pakistani citizens belonging to the low socioeconomic strata fall within the brackets of increasing expenditure leading to rising costs of living which causes them to sacrifice their children’s education and well being in order to raise food to survive.

Take the example of Zafar, who works as a gardener and has pulled his thirteen year old son out of school: “I know that getting educated will guarantee my son a secure future. The only problem is that I don’t have enough money to get my son educated without letting the rest of my five children starve. He’s going to start working independently soon and he will help me support our family.”

More daunting is the influx of water borne and bred diseases which surmounts following the floods, which have begun to periodically ravage our landscape in recent years – primarily due to changing climatic conditions.

Epidemics of cholera and malaria often result in fatalities greater in number than those caused by the floods themselves. Therefore, today, majority of Pakistan’s rural workforce is diseased and dangling inches away from the throes of poverty.

Thus, the requirements at Agenda 21 and the Rio Convention of 1992 for eradication of poverty in order to increase production and sustainability so that ‘the needs of the majority of the people of our world’ can be met, are dreams part of a distant horizon for Pakistan.

Director General of the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency, Asif S. Khan says that Pakistan is number eight on the list of ten countries that will bear the worst implications of Climate Change.

“This year, we may receive 15 per cent more rain than usual. And later on, there remains a possibility of drought. At the moment, our government should focus on protecting and salvaging our agricultural sector upon which the entire economy depends. Preparedness is vital for sustainable development,” he says.

But today, there appears to be hope for Pakistan.

In 1997, Pakistan managed to draft its Environment Protection Act and in 2011, drafted its firstClimate Change Policy.

At present, the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency has managed to implement Environmental Impact Assessment – EIA – as a key tool for evaluation of the impact of various activities upon the environment.

Khan also cites the Clean Development Mechanism-Pakistan (CDM-Pakistan) as a valid example of an initiative inclined towards sustainability.

CDM-Pakistan has been established under the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In Pakistan, at present, several projects centred on the usage of biogas and heat recovery are in progress under its guidance.

On the flip side, Naseer Memon – chairperson of Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO) Pakistan – seemed dispirited when asked about where the priorities of the government of Pakistan lie in terms of sustainable development.

“Regrettably, there is serious lack of political will on part of the government to make development sustainable. Politically motivated decision-making in public sector development often compromises principals of sustainable development. Environmental sensitivities and community rights are flagrantly violated in public infrastructure projects. As a matter of fact, the recent flood disasters have exposed the country’s vulnerability due to faulty development paradigms. It must be noted that although public policies make tall claims, bad governance and absence of political will preclude meaningful actions”, he

The recently concluded Rio +20 Conference on Sustainable Development focused upon issues ranging from Research and Development in the field of alternate energy, harnessing renewable resources for generation of power, and sustainable forestry practices, fisheries and agriculture.

The international community, however, holds grievances against the outcomes of the Conference – mentioned in its blueprint – primarily due to its lack of enforceable environmental commitments.

Says Memon, with reference to this issue: “The document merely reiterates earlier made commitments on different forums. It does not provide any action plan and broader statements given in the document are not linked with any clearly defined targets or timelines.”

So is there any possibility of implementation of the measures discussed during the conference, in a country that has been ravaged by terrorism and whose government considers defense a greater priority than environmental protection and sustainability? And is it fair to strike parallels between Pakistan and developed nations of the world?

“The event and the agreed document does not hold relevance for Pakistan,” claims Memon.

“Under the Millennium Development Goals, Pakistan has already committed towards achieving the key targets of human development. The progress, however, is not up to the mark. The document produced the culmination of Rio +20 – titled The Future We Want – provides a broad framework of moving towards sustainable development. Strategies to achieve these objectives and solutions proposed in the conference can be customised according to our own realities.”

The cost of implementation is escalating per year. Khan claims that at present, 360 billion dollars are required to harness and implement measures suggested in the Rio +20 conference.

From the Federal Budget of 2012-2013, a meagre 0.003 per cent (Rs. 763 million) has been allocated towards Environmental Protection – which primarily concerns waste water management.

“What is necessary here,” says Khan, “is for the government to understand the strategic importance of sustainability. It should, firstly, occupy a significant portion in the budget.

Sustainability should then be integrated with the economy. The best options for Pakistan – bearing in mind it’s abundance of fertile plains and its picturesque landscape – are organic farming and eco tourism. Not only will the government earn revenue through these measures, but sustainable development and the economy will flourish hand-in-hand.”

Khan’s argument bears relevance. Along with poverty, one of Pakistan’s biggest woes is unemployment –5.7 per cent for the fiscal year 2010-2011. The development of organic farming and eco tourism will serve to generate employment, much needed for the population of Pakistan.

Here, however, looms the existence of terrorism and militancy in Pakistan’s north.

Development of eco tourism in locations vulnerable to suicide attacks is an anomaly which can only be corrected once Pakistan is successful in resolving the chaos and uncertainty – in terms of militancy and political instability – which has plagued its landscape and its people.

“Pakistan needs to revisit its development priorities. Our current approach does not make citizens the centre point of development. With fast swelling population and a depleting natural resource base, Pakistan is fast heading towards a quagmire. Policies and international commitments need serious implementation that can only be made possible via higher levels of political commitment. State institutions need to ensure that wellbeing of citizens should be their primary objective”, says Memon.

However, despite being sluggish, Pakistan’s movement towards sustainable development is definitely progressive. Awareness constitutes as a vital element for further success in this direction.

The people of Pakistan must understand the repercussions of unsolicited natural disasters stemming from climatic change and assist the government in taking necessary steps to cushion catastrophes that may surmount. It is also vital for the present generation to comprehend the scarcity of natural resources and adopt a greener approach towards development and prosperity.

Originally published by Dawn Pakistan

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