Webinar on water, food security: Degradation of ecosystems due to deforestation, over-exploitation of natural resources

Islamabad: The experts speaking at the webinar on Saturday opined that the core reasons for the degradation of ecosystems they cited were the unchecked deforestation, use of land change and overexploitation of natural resources including subsurface water.

Aquifers are depleting casing severe threat to water security as we have already reached below the required water per capita. The unsustainable adaptation mechanisms have led us to a dangerous situation. We among the top five countries most vulnerable to disasters and climate change impact that would immensely affect water and food security. Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) and DTN organised the webinar on the subject “Ecosystem restoration for water and food security for all” on Saturday to boost the World Environment Day (June 5) theme.

The panel of experts included EvK2CNR Senior Scientist and Technical Advisor Ashiq Ahmed Khan, PFAN Country Director Saima Qadir, former Federal Planning Commission chief for water sector and Chair Development Finance Naseer Gillani, Water Security expert Dr. Zainab Ahmad, Food Security and Climate Change expert Aftab Alam Khan, Global Change Impact Study Centre expert Arif Goheer, environmental expert and activist Seema Taher (Karachi), adventure tourism expert Tahir Imran Khan (Lahore), Nighat Husnain (UK), Water and Climate Change expert Dr. Zaigham Khan, Balochistan University professor Dr. Zahoor Bazai, and Saaim Khan from Fauji Fertilizers Corporation (Lahore).

Climate advocacy expert and Executive Director Devcom-Pakistan Munir Ahmed hosted and conducted the webinar. Introducing the topic, he said, “Pakistan’s all eleven ecosystems are under severe threats because of the negligence. There is no sufficient check on deforestation that has declined to much less than two percent. The 10 billion tree tsunami project is focusing more on plantation of saplings while timber and housing mafias are free to their will for changing the land-use and chopping off trees. Illegal hunting of migratory birds remained unchecked. Biodiversity habitats are in shambles. There is no integrated and inclusive strategy for ecosystem restoration. It speaks of the priority of government while hosting the international event of World Environment day on June 5.” Saima Qadir said Over 4.7 million hectare of forest lost annually from the global map. Ecosystem loss is destroying natural habits and biodiversity, and carbon sinks found in forests and peatland, at a critical tipping point for climate change.

In addition to mitigating Greenhouse Gases, maintaining biodiversity through restoring ecosystems is equally important for sustaining life on earth. Covid-19 has been disastrous for ecosystem loss and its restoration means repairing billions of hectares of land so people could have access to food, clean water, and jobs. She said the rapid loss has left with us only six years instead of ten to control and manage the loss of ecosystems in Pakistan. Naseer Gillani said Pakistan Food Security has not been allocated specific investment with respect to restoration of Ecosystems. The UN Decade calls for 3.5 million hectares of land back to its original productivity but we had not announced to reverse soil degradation projects.

On the other hand, immense change of land-use is taking place unnoticed. Ground water management is totally missing while 39 Canal Commands are withdrawing more water than recharge hence water table is lowering reducing the storage and increasing the cost of pumping out. Ground water over-mining is resulting in saline water intrusion thus making the ground water use hazardous. Aftab Alam Khan said “Ecology is the inter-relations among plant, animals, human beings and environment. Disrespect to environment has distorted ecology and we are facing climatic crisis. Agriculture is the worst hit. In Sindh, for instance, during 2020, around 363 percent above average August rainfalls inflicted food and agriculture over 2 million acres. A paradigm shift is required. Government policies and programs should integrate ecological restoration. Research and extension should integrate local knowledge with scientific developments for a climate resilient food and agriculture system in Pakistan”. Dr. Zainab Ahmed said “Water is integrally significant for communities and states. But a country like Pakistan with around 207 million people where 90 percent of water utilization is for agriculture, which eventually contributes 20 percent to GDP, water security remains the impending issue. Over the last two decades water in Pakistan is not just one of the foremost challenges in managing the federation yet is one of the leading issues in foreign policy and national security. Water availability in Pakistan is dependent on a single Indus river system, which also is the source of maintaining ground water level. Per capita water availability was 5,650 cubic meters in 1951 which has reduced to 908 cubic meters in 2021. This availability may soon fall to 860 cubic meters and if effective strategy is not followed it may fall up to 500 cubic meters by 2040. Currently Pakistan is on 23rd number among 167 water scarce countries and among top ten being affected by Climate Change. Today in Pakistan about 3.369 million people are water stressed, about 8.541 million people are in water scarcity and 89.94 million people are in absolute water scarcity. About 47 percent of Pakistan’s population lives in water scarce areas. The demand of water by 2025 is expected to reach 274 MAF while supply remains at 191 MAF, a big challenge at the doorstep”.

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