We recently spoke with Aban Marker-Kabraji, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Asia director. Excerpts:
The Asian Development Bank counts Pakistan among the world’s most water-stressed countries. How grave is the threat?
Pakistan is rich in water resources but growing demand and lack of legislative frameworks—policies and strategies that prioritize conservation and management of available water resources—could have serious implications for human health and wellbeing, the economy, and plant and animal species.
Pakistan and India took their water dispute to international arbitration. Do such frictions add to the problem?
The Indus Waters Treaty [between Pakistan and India] is highly regarded as a cornerstone for achieving equitable sharing and distribution of water resources. It is important that we perceive it as a benefit-sharing mechanism rather than a means for conflict resolution. IUCN is currently working [on] addressing complex issues related to managing trans-boundary river basins across South and South East Asia, and developing cooperation on trans-boundary water issues through water diplomacy and building capacity within Pakistan.
Is it correct to say that the Pakistani government hasn’t been able to prioritize conservation?
In Pakistan, we operate through a host country agreement with the government and are working to support the country in building capacity around water management and interprovincial cooperation for sustainable livelihoods and healthy ecosystems. For example, since 2009, the IUCN National Impact Assessment Program has been helping to improve implementation of environmental-impact assessment processes. This has delivered positive outcomes like the passing of the Balochistan Environmental Legislation Act in 2013.
How can Pakistan mitigate its water crisis?
It is critical that Pakistan establish national water-management frameworks and strategies that will take into account its very varied geography. IUCN is currently assisting in the development of legislative frameworks that can lay the groundwork for strategies tailored to suit each of Pakistan’s agro-ecological zones. Under the Pakistan Water Program, for example, IUCN has begun pilot studies for all the major ecological zones found in the Indus basin. In addition to supporting resource management and economic development, our target is to maintain long-term, sustainable ecosystem health.
How has climate change affected Pakistan?
Crises related to water and climate change are two sides of the same coin. The impacts of climate change often manifest in extreme water-related events that affect all sectors. In Pakistan, there are also a number of underlying vulnerabilities, such as poverty and serious environmental degradation, which exacerbate the effects of climate change with potential serious impacts on food, water, and energy. This calls for the integration of climate change planning into the national-development agenda … Unfortunately, climate change is still an amorphous concept for many people who have not yet made the connection between environmental degradation and their economic and personal wellbeing. Organizations like IUCN have a major role to play in helping build knowledge and understanding.
What can be done to convince Pakistan to take climate change more seriously?
Most experts agree that climate change is having and will continue to have serious social and economic impacts. A National Economic and Environmental Development study estimated that annual climate-adaptation costs in Pakistan are expected to range from $7 billion to $14 billion. This seems like a lot of money, but not when you consider that the 2010 floods cost the country about $7 billion to $9 billion. At the same time, the World Bank has estimated that 6 percent of Pakistan’s GDP is lost annually due to environmental degradation. This means that about Rs. 1 billion a day could be added to economic production with better environmental health and resilience. This should be a winning argument for both the government and the people of Pakistan.
From our Jan. 18, 2014, issue.