Major environmental issues currently confronting Pakistan include climate change, water-energy, pollution and waste management, salinity and water logging, irrigated agriculture, biodiversity and more that are too numerous to count. Pakistan, being one of the highly vulnerable countries to climate change impact, has to bear the brunt of its effects. Environmental hazards have become a major global issue this century. These hazards are impacting the national, social and economic landscape. Rapid economic development and man-made interference in the natural systems are the chief reasons behind this problem.

Climate change threats to Pakistan are considerable. Increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events coupled with erratic monsoon rains is causing frequent and intense floods and droughts. The projected recession of the Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalayan glaciers due to global warming and carbon soot deposits from trans-boundary pollution sources is threatening water inflows into the Indus River system, increased siltation of major dams, caused by more frequent and intense floods, and increased temperature is resulting in enhanced heat- and water-stressed conditions, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions. All these factors are leading towards reduced agricultural productivity, decrease in the already scanty forest cover from too rapid a change in climatic conditions to allow natural migration of adversely affected plant species, and increased intrusion of saline water in the Indus delta that is adversely affecting coastal agriculture mangroves and the breeding grounds of fish.

Pakistan is a natural disaster-prone country ‘ in recent years, it has had to face one of the worst floods in its history and a major earthquake in which the government struggled to overcome the natural calamity. The fast-growing population poses a significant challenge for Pakistan. The existing environment management capacity cannot sustain such a large population while providing a good quality of life. Despite the devolution of the federal ministry of environment and transfer of more powers to the provinces, the state of environment has been in a shambles.

After the devolution of the federal ministry of environment on June 28, 2011, the ministry of disaster management took over the responsibilities of the environment sector at the federal level. Due to the limited resources at its disposal, government efforts alone are not sufficient enough to address challenges resulting from climate change. A much larger participation and support from other stakeholders including industry, civil society and the public at large as well as donors is needed to effectively respond to climate issues.

Environment – related factors cause roughly one-third of all child mortality in Pakistan; the highest rate in South Asia. Diseases like diarrhea and typhoid, caused by inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene are other significant types of environmental damage that make up about 30 per cent of the cost of environmental damages. The remaining 20 per cent of the total cost results from reduced agricultural productivity due to soil degradation, particularly salinisation, erosion, and water logging. It has a drastic effect on the livelihoods of people in the rural areas.

The government allocated a total of Rs 58.8 million to combat climate change in the public sector development programme for 2013 to 2014 as compared to Rs 168.1 million allocated to the climate change ministry in 2012-13. The ministry has now been transformed into a division.

Environmentalists and officials say the move may have serious repercussions on different sectors in the country including agriculture, water and forestation besides losing representation at international forums. International donors and organisations working on climate change are also unlikely to support Pakistan in dealing with this reality. Pakistan may face isolation in the international community if it does not take effective measures to cope with changing weather patterns to halt this highly dangerous threat. All development may go waste if we do not keep in view the concerns of climate change in the country while constructing dams, roads, canals and bridges. Non-availability of international funding is due to inefficiency in dealing with environmental challenges. An estimated 250 million gallons of untreated water out of Karachi is dumped into the Arabian Sea every day, causing great harm to both humans and the ecosystem.

Pakistan is also losing its representation on international forums for addressing this issue, mainly because of official apathy. Representatives from India and Bangladesh effectively fought their case at the Bonn Conference to seek international funding but there was no official representative from Pakistan to present a case, which was unfortunate. Development and growth in Pakistan are based on utilisation of natural resources but the pressures of population growth and a consequential increase in demand and poverty can all take a heavy toll on environmental assets.

Pakistan needs to strengthen its policy, institutional framework and capacity to mitigate these negative impacts in line with the best international practices. Integrating these practices into the project process from planning to implementation will improve long-term sustainability of these projects.

Despite increasing international attention, the environmental degradation issue is severely harming the public space and the state alike on policy fronts. Pakistan falls in the most vulnerable categories of climate change but we are doing nothing to cope with the challenge. The government should revive the climate change ministry and develop different viable projects to seek international funding for them. It is high time to tackle these problems failing which not only the environment will further deteriorate but the food security of the country will also come under severe threat.

By: Haroon Mustafa Janjua

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