Pakistan has a 1,050 kilometre coastline spanning across Balochistan and Sindh
Inland water resources have dwindled from 5,000 cubic metres per capita in 1947 to less than 1,000 today
Coastal pollution and climate change directly impacts the welfare and livelihoods of nearby populations
Rio+20, held in 2012, culminated with the agreement to focus on 17 goals as a build up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2030. All nations agreed to abide by a commitment to focus on these 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure a safe, sustainable and peaceful world that would continue to support life on earth for future generations. The interpretation of these goals was to ensure they were action-oriented, concise and global in nature. Goal 14, aimed at the Integration of Oceans into the SDG framework, calls for Pakistan’s commitment to ensuring the sustainability of oceans and marine life with special attention to the welfare of populations dependent on ocean life. Pakistan has a 1,050 kilometre coastline, of which 250km falls in Sindh and 800km in Balochistan. In 2014, the World Maritime Organisation, having recognised Pakistan’s rightful claim, extended its international waters by 50,000 sq km.
Pakistan has witnessed various happenings in its ocean fisheries environment, with numerous incidences of large mammals — sharks and whales — washing up dead on its coastlines, similar to the incidence of the whale deaths reported in Australia earlier this year. With seas and oceans being overpolluted due to human activity and serving as repositories of human waste, chemical pollution and dumping grounds for industrial non-useable outputs, our ocean has turned into a junkyard. This toll on marine life directly impacts the welfare and livelihoods of communities dependent on these resources.
Rapid socio-economic development calls for the need to protect natural resources and the environment. New coastal developments, such as the Gwadar port, are avenues of economic turnaround for Pakistan. Gwadar port and neighbouring India’s investment in a new port located in Iran will result in a surge in marine transportation. This will also impact the sea waters surrounding Pakistan’s coastline. Potential new settlements on the shorelines, if uncontrolled, will become negative human externalities for seas and oceans. Adding to that is Pakistan’s hidden desire to replicate development approaches similar to the Emirates. The nation’s development aspirations will force it to look towards its coastline — with consequences for its marine environments. Such experiments should be undertaken with great caution and sensitivity to maintain ecological balance. A long-term perspective to ensure biodiversity is a prerequisite to such venturing.
Likewise, Pakistan’s rapidly dwindling inland water resources (that started off with a healthy 5,000 cubic metres per capita water availability back in 1947) have declined to alarmingly less than 1,000 cubic metres in 2016. When push comes to shove, the country could look to the sea to meet its water demands. While seas and oceans are inexhaustible sources of water, that through desalination can become a long-term strategic asset, ensuring the wellbeing of coastal waters is imperative.
In June 2015, Pakistan witnessed an extreme climate change event in the form of a heat wave that killed nearly 2,000 people. The impact on Karachi and coastal populations was devastating because the Arabian Sea failed to provide traditional respite from this heat-wave in the form of a cool breeze. In India, the situation was no better when 10,000 lives were lost. Climate change has also resulted in an increase in oceanic temperature. The anomalies it will create for marine life are to be feared: the large scale migration of species is one well-known example. A few years ago, coastal communities near Jiwani witnessed a surge in their fishing catch when they spotted a rather exquisite species previously not known of in the area. While it created a windfall for the fishermen, it left scientists baffled with this evidence of a shift in the pattern of life beneath the deep waters. Such uncertainties will bring surprises and opportunities. Is Pakistan ready to handle and adapt to the consequences of climate change beneath the oceans? Last year’s bumper catch could just as easily become next year’s loss.
Pakistan’s focus for SDG 14 should be to conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources. It should take actions that ensure continued health of oceans/seas by initiating a necessary regulatory framework, upgrade institutions for effective monitoring and join international efforts to achieve SDGs through agreed protocols.
It must engage with all stakeholders dependent on its coastlines to improve their livelihood and provide a level playing field to benefit from the ocean resources.
And it ought to engage with the international community to ensure a healthy and productive maritime environment with attention to integrative and multilevel governance, with actionable projects at the grassroots.
Pakistan should convene a national level task force to chalk out a strategy that fits into its long-term sustainable development vision. In particular, it should urgently assign organising such a task to its already existing National Oceanography Institute based in Karachi and the Marine Biology department at Karachi University. Likewise, the University of Agriculture, Water and Marine Sciences, Lasbela should be engaged to establish joint projects along the coastline. Already, the World Wildlife Fund and International Union for Conservation of Nature have both worked with local communities along the coastline.
The writer is the Director of the Pakistan Water Partnership and a former expert member of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Climate Change. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Coming next: Development versus managing ecosystems: What will Pakistan do?
Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2016