KARACHI, May 19: A key project concerning the rehabilitation and conservation of Sindh wetlands has been waiting for approval from the planning and development (P&D) department for more than two years.
The project’s PC-1, according to sources, was approved by the Provincial Development Working Party (PDWP) in January 2010 following a two-year-long process of consultations with stakeholders to evolve a consensus on the working plan.
Last year, Rs54.5 million was also allocated for the project under the Annual Development Programme 2011-12, but the amount could not be utilised. The total cost of the project was estimated at Rs886 million.
The planning and development itself had proposed the scheme in 2008-09.
The project titled ‘Feasibility study and remedial measures for restoration of lakes and other water bodies in Sindh’ envisaged rehabilitation and conservation of wetlands in the province with its prime focus on the Haleji Lake.
The project’s objectives included the establishment of a comprehensive monitoring system for water quality and ecosystem health for the lake and application of the lessons learnt at Haleji on other wetlands in later phases; development of management plans for the Haleji protected site; strengthening of capacity to protect and manage resources of wetlands and their biodiversity; building public awareness of sustainable wetlands and provision of support to entrepreneurial and agricultural activities within the project areas which are compatible with biodiversity conservation objectives.
An important component of the project was to develop the Haleji Lake for eco-tourism.
The project’s approval, according to sources, was subject to its modification which had been done twice on recommendations of the P&D department’s technical committee. The last modified version of the document was submitted in April 2011.
The institutions made responsible for the execution of the project’s first phase were the Sindh Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) and Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB).
Sources blame the delay in the project’s implementation on the P&D department’s environment section, which, they said, had been raising pointless objections to the project and was now insisting on limiting the scope of the project to only research.
Saleem Jalbani, currently looking after the environment section after transfer of the section head, refused to offer any comment on the issue and said that Sepa should be approached over the matter.
However, environment secretary Mir Hussain Ali said: “We have complied with the observations of the P&D department and been waiting for the administrative approval for more than a year after re-submitting the PC-1 document in April last year.”
P&D additional chief secretary Malik Asrar Hussain was not available for his comment.
Regretting the delay on the part of the government to initiate steps for wetlands rehabilitation and conservation, Nasir Panhwar, representing the World Wide Fund for Nature, said that many wetlands in the province had degraded and lost their significance. He mentioned unsustainable exploitation of natural resources; continuous release of industrial, agricultural and domestic effluents into the aquatic environment; and drought-like conditions as the reasons.
“Twelve out of the 42 natural wetlands in Sindh have dried up while the rest are fast degrading either because they are not getting freshwater or/and increasingly receiving effluents,” he observed.
A little water that did reach the natural wetlands dependent upon the inflow of freshwater was generally laden with silt, fertiliser and pesticide runoff, causing additional problems and aggravating eutrophication, he pointed out.
Regarding the Haleji Lake, Mr Panhwar said water shortages, sedimentation and spread of aquatic vegetation had worsened conditions at the lake once called the birds’ paradise but now existing only as a stagnant pool of water.
“The lake, a Ramsar site and wildlife sanctuary, used to be a tourist delight decades ago as it attracted thousands of birds, especially at the onset of the winter. At that time the lake was being used as a source of potable water for Karachi.
“The conditions at the lake started deteriorating when the government decided to abandon the lake as a source of water supply about 15 to 20 years ago and started using the Keenjhar Lake for the purpose. Consequently, supplies of freshwater to the lake were also reduced drastically,” he said.
Wetland conservation, according to Mr Panhwar, received little monetary support from the government because it was viewed as a low priority area. The value that was placed on wetland resources by the government or local communities living in and around such sites was based upon the immediate benefit they derived in terms of income and livelihood.
“There are multiple problems which I believe could be effectively tackled by a single authority on wetlands comprising all stakeholders. The present setup having multiple departments looking after various aspects of a wetland has miserably failed,” he said, adding that the WWF had suggested the establishment of a wetland authority and submitted a draft on the same idea to the government two years ago but there had been no progress.