ISLAMABAD: The government will spend Rs4 billion over the next three years to protect and preserve 15 national parks which include nine new natural settings across the country with a proper management regime that will promote eco-tourism besides creating 5,000 new jobs for the youth.

“Some of these areas were notified in the 1970s but only on papers. There were no mechanisms to protect these natural spreads and the diverse species residing in them. All these natural settings are now declared protected and will be made model national parks,” Adviser to the Prime Minister Malik Amin Aslam said at a media briefing about the “Protected Areas Initiative” launched by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday.

While tourism will be encouraged in these areas, a National Park Service, that will comprise the youth, will also be launched. In the first phase, 5,000 youth will be hired and trained to conserve nature and promote eco-tourism, he said.

PM’s adviser says 5,000 youth will be hired to conserve nature under National Park Service

He said from the sea level to the highest point of K2, there are 12 ecological zones that need to be looked after. That is why the prime minister has decided to launch the initiative.

“It is a huge decision. It has two important aspects to it. No development activities of any kind will be permitted there let nature take its course. The rights of the communities that live in some of these national parks will be protected and they will be taken on board to play their part in conservation of the parks they call home. Every national park will have a dedicated conservation fund and communities will have the first right,” he said.

He said the prime minister has taken notice of species of animals disappearing in these parks. Protecting animals is in response to protecting animals from going extinct such as snow leopard, ibex, blue sheep, Marcopolo sheep, urial and unique species of blind dolphin.

He said funds for this year have been transferred to provinces which now have to come up with proper management plans for these national parks, followed by hiring of staff for the National Park Service.

“The concept is to protect these natural settings for generations to come,” he said.

Meanwhile, WWF-Pakistan welcomed the prime minister’s move to protect national parks and conserve biodiversity in Pakistan.

WWF-Pakistan Director General Hammad Naqi Khan said it is the right time to take practical steps for the protection of national parks and improve green spaces in urban areas. He said the establishment and effective management of protected areas is essential to conserve the unique natural heritage of Pakistan that can help ensure sustainable supply of vital ecosystem services and decrease the adverse impacts of climate change.

Mr Khan also appreciated the prime minister for his initiative to promote ecotourism, which is vital for the well-being of local communities and the national economy. He said all types of haphazard constructions should be stopped and sustainable development initiatives should be introduced without compromising the environment.

However, he also said in order to be part of the global system of protected areas, it is imperative that the sites or areas included in the national list of protected areas meet the globally recognised criteria for their establishment and management.

Moreover, he said, laws should be revised in terms of the fines and penalties imposed on poaching, illegal wildlife trade, infrastructure development, unsanctioned logging and encroachment on forested land.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2020