By Rimsha Zahid
In Pakistan’s agro-based economy, where agricultural production depends largely on irrigated areas, watersheds and their management can have significant positive impact on socio-economic growth. Over the years, water disputes with neighbouring India, coupled with climate change vagaries have painted a bleak picture for the long-term availability of water in the country. Add our current profligacy and the growing pollution of watercourses to the mix, and the result is simply not sustainable.
Pakistan is already ranked 31 out of 36 countries in the world with extremely high water stress. By 2040, Pakistan’s water stress will considerably worsen and its ranking is projected to be 23. The effects of acute water scarcity are already visible across the land and a concerted effort is required to meet the greater challenges that lie ahead. It is evident that mitigating measures need to be immediately undertaken in various parts of the country.
A leading organization focusing on sustainable environmental management globally and in Pakistan is the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Hammad Naqi Khan, an engineer and water expert by profession, is the CEO of WWF-Pakistan. He regards the organization’s work to initiate the process of Alliance for Water Stewardship Certification for promoting responsible freshwater use as a significant success. And in the field of freshwater replenishment, he talks about the collaboration with The Coca-Cola Foundation for the project Improving Sub-Watershed Management and Environmental Awareness in and around Ayubia National Park’ as one of the iconic projects of WWF-Pakistan in terms of its innovative approach and achievements.
The project started in November 2008 is now in its 8th phase. It is one of the largest projects WWF-Pakistan has been involved in, with private sector partnership. The Ayubia National Park (ANP) is spread over 3,312 hectares and is part of the Western Himalayan Eco-region. The catchment area of this region provides the stream flow of 70 – 80% water to the Indus River. Unsustainable land management practices had led to deforestation, water shortage and flash floods in the region. According to a WWF-Pakistan study, the area was facing a loss of springs, reduced water availability and build-up of sediments in streams due to deforestation which had serious implications on species habitat and livelihoods of local communities.
Thus the project was launched to have an integrated approach to watershed management with multi-stakeholder engagement, with the stakeholders including Coca-Cola providing the financing and financial and project management oversight, WWF-Pakistan, local community organizations, governmental agencies like the Forest and Wildlife departments and the Galliat Development Authority, academia and even tourists.
Through the project’s efforts, there has been 4.62% improvement in vegetation cover, natural regeneration, and other plantations with communities. This has contributed towards improved groundwater replenishment, with over 800 million litres replenished so far, improved spring water quality, and reduced sediments. Thirty-two percent of the beneficiaries are getting income from fruit trees provided by the project and there has been a 25% increase in agriculture production due to pipe irrigation system.
Efforts to provide clean water and energy to close communities have included installation of one large and 70 small and medium water filtration units, 83 solar water heaters in public places such as schools and mosques, 85 rooftop rainwater harvesting schemes, and 18 roof/wall insulation solutions, distribution of 510 fuel-efficient stoves, improving drinking water supply and sanitation in 10 schools, and cleanup of 29 water springs. The project also developed waste management plans and systems for the Galliat area that was adopted by the Galliat Development Authority, the Saif-ul-Muluk Lake National Park (SNP) and for the ‘pipeline track’ in ANP.
The project has helped establish community-based organizations (CBOs) for better mobilization and has contributed towards augmenting local livelihoods through building vocational skills of women, training on better agricultural practices, improving field terraces, establishing 10 pipe irrigation schemes, and distributing seed kits, fruit plants, and poultry units. Awareness and education initiatives, such as engaging teachers and students in over 80 schools, establishing 55 nature clubs, training 25 men as eco-tourist guides to sensitize tourists, have also been successful in engaging the public.
The project has set a benchmark for integrated watershed management and demonstrated the huge impact that sustainable practices can have on a region. It is a real success story of how a partnership between a corporation and a specialist NGO can yield long-term benefits in an area which needs urgent attention. Summing up how he feels about this project now, after all its achievements, Hammad Naqi opined that the best part of working in the field of conservation is that when life throws challenges your way, you should have the ability to transform them into opportunities.