Saving biodiversity: An existential necessity | By Naghmana Alamgir Hashmi


Saving biodiversity: An existential necessity

THE air we breathe and the food we eat all rely on biodiversity which is in perilous decline due to human activity.

We are failing our Mother Earth which is also home to millions of other life forms. How seriously we take this issue at official and public levels and what we do in the next few years will determine the fate of biodiversity and life on Earth.

Biodiversity is the sum of all life on our planet. Every single individual life form from the smallest bacteria in soil to largest whale in sea, is a component of Earth’s biodiversity.

But biodiversity does not stop at the individual. Biodiversity is also the relationships between these life forms and their habitat.

Humans are a member of the biodiversity community, and our own cultural diversity is recognized to be a product of local biodiversity.

Culture is closely connected to wild nature from which human communities emerge. Biodiversity is the primary source of Earth’s biosphere – life web that produces everything humans need most: food, water, many modern medicines, and air.

Despite being critical to our existence, the current projection for biodiversity is grim. A recent report by the United Nations concluded that within the next 80 years, we will lose over a million known species.

Single biggest threat to biodiversity is habitat loss, linked to food production on land and in sea. Biodiversity needs space to survive.

Every animal needs a home which means wilderness which when converted into industrial production spaces, subtracts the landscapes needed for life production.

We reduce our ability to fight climate change, grow sustainable and healthy crops, and have access to clean and abundant water, prevent pandemics, and plan for a future for our children and grandchildren.

Pakistan is one of the world’s major biodiversity hotspots particularly. Pakistan spans a remarkable number of the world’s ecological regions.

These range from mangrove forests fringing Arabian Sea to spectacular mountain tops. These habitats support a rich variety of species which contribute to overall biological diversity, or biodiversity, of the country.

Ecosystems and services they provide play an important part in the ecological and economic situation of the rural population.

Pakistan has a number of the world’s rarest animals and plants but these are now threatened and/or endangered largely due to over-exploitation and loss of natural habitat.

Rapid human population growth is increasing pressure on the country’s natural resource base.

Increased poverty has forced rural people to exploit biodiversity at unsustainable rates. Factors like deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, salinity and water-logging are posing major threats to the remaining biodiversity of the country.

Continuing loss of forest habitat, with its associated fauna and flora, have serious implications for the nation’s other natural and agricultural ecosystems.

The Protected Areas System was established for conservation of biodiversity and although a number of laws have been framed to conserve various components of biodiversity, they have not been implemented.

Pakistan has acknowledged that loss of biodiversity and impact of climate change constitute threats to national economic and social development.

If not addressed properly, it will destroy ecosystems raising poverty and hunger. Pakistan National Conservation Strategy of 1992 identified 14 core programmes including “Protecting Water Bodies & Sustaining Fisheries” and “Conservation of Biodiversity” and other measures.

However, despite this comprehensive document we do not see much preservation work in Pakistan.

Manchar Lake is an example of criminal neglect. What was once the main transit hub of migratory birds is now dissolute and polluted?

Pink Blind Dolphin population has dwindled in Indus, its only home. Tigers and lions are now extinct.

Impact of climate change in Pakistan is finally becoming an issue that is being discussed on national levels but impact of biodiversity loss is yet to become mainstream although it is intrinsically linked both to climate change and our national planning requirements of the UN Convention on Biodiversity.

However, to truly safeguard nature for the future, we need to see more wide-ranging and rapid change.

In particular, there are several areas as detailed below, where it will be critical to advance progress including institutional, technical and managerial complexities that are aggravating the problem.

• Strengthen synergies between how we address biodiversity protection and climate change.

• Enhance private sector engagement in environmental protection.

Sustainability must be put at the core of business strategies, so that every stage of value-chains is sustainable.

• Reverse losses and promote diversity are in vain without local participation.

Biodiversity conservation policies must prioritize increasing awareness amongst the citizens.

• All the stakeholders including the government agencies, local communities and NGOs work together as partners to conserve biodiversity.

• Formulate an effective policy and enact institutional reforms to carry them out.

• Integrate biodiversity conservation measures into sectoral initiatives.

• Create better understanding of all aspects of biodiversity and create effective means for ensuring their sustainable use.

• Develop community-based biodiversity management systems.

• Develop and institutionalize systems to monitor key elements of biodiversity and better implement existing plans.

• Biodiversity concerns/issues related to each department can be segregated, and individual solutions suggested.

• Top level decision-makers of the country have to be sensitized to biodiversity issues.

After all, biodiversity is linked with food security, social security and the security of the country as a whole.

• Increase biodiversity trained professionals in Pakistan.

• The National Biodiversity Council may be established.

• Just as people may be part of the problem, they are also part of the solution.

Key to protecting the biological heritage of Pakistan lies in the involvement of the local people and in support provided by competent institutions in conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

We only have one home, tiny blue dot called earth located in the third spiral of our galaxy. But it is not exclusively ours. We share it with millions of other species and our existence is intertwined with theirs.

For the sake of all living things, it is incumbent on us to ensure a healthy and thriving planet.

Humans and biodiversity coexist and need each other to survive. If the world is to sustain future generations, we must fundamentally fix our broken relationship with nature.

Need to conserve biodiversity and ensure a healthy environment is a global challenge that does not stop at borders.

Pakistan must work together with countries in the region and at global level if it is to succeed in protecting the planet.

—The writer is former Ambassador, based in Islamabad.


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