Pakistan’s Environmental Challenges: A Call for Urgent Action

by Tayyaba Khurshid
Pakistan, with its diverse landscapes, rich biodiversity, and vibrant ecosystems, faces numerous environmental challenges that require immediate attention.
On the eve of Environment Day, it is crucial to shine a light on the environmental challenges that Pakistan faces and rally for immediate action to safeguard our natural resources.
With its diverse landscapes, ranging from breathtaking mountains to fertile plains and vast coastlines, Pakistan possesses an abundance of natural beauty. However, this beauty is under threat due to a myriad of environmental issues that demand our attention and concerted efforts. One of the most pressing challenges is water scarcity. In terms of “extremely high water risk states,” Pakistan is placed 14th out of 17 countries worldwide due to wasting one-third of its available water. Over 80 percent of the population in Pakistan experiences “severe water scarcity.” The amount of water available per person in Pakistan has drastically declined from 5,229 cubic meters in 1962 to a mere 1,187 cubic meters in 2017. Pakistan is grappling with an alarming shortage of freshwater, affecting both rural and urban areas. The combination of a growing population and inefficient water management practices has resulted in the overexploitation of our water resources. As a consequence, agriculture, the backbone of our economy, suffers, and communities struggle to meet their basic needs. It is imperative that we implement comprehensive strategies for water conservation, invest in water infrastructure, and raise awareness about responsible water usage. Only through sustainable water management can we alleviate the burden of water scarcity and ensure a prosperous future. Another formidable problem confronting Pakistan is air pollution. In 2016, Pakistan ranked fifth globally for having highly polluted air, primarily attributed to emissions from vehicles and industries, as well as agricultural practices involving crop burning. Rapid urbanization, industrialization, and the rise in vehicular emissions have contributed to the degradation of air quality in our cities. The detrimental effects of breathing polluted air cannot be overstated, as they pose severe health risks and impair the well-being of our citizens. To combat this, we must prioritize clean air initiatives by enforcing stricter emission standards, transitioning to renewable energy sources, and improving public transportation. By reducing air pollution, we can safeguard public health and create cities that are livable and sustainable. Preserving biodiversity and protecting our natural habitats is also paramount. Pakistan is home to a remarkable array of flora and fauna, harboring unique ecosystems that need safeguarding. However, deforestation, habitat destruction, and illegal wildlife trade pose significant threats to our biodiversity. There is a need to strengthen efforts to conserve natural heritage by establishing and effectively managing protected areas, promoting sustainable land-use practices, and combating wildlife trafficking.
Engaging local communities in conservation initiatives and fostering sustainable tourism can help generate awareness and create a sense of ownership over our natural resources.
Furthermore, plastic pollution has emerged as a grave environmental concern. Based on a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, Pakistan produces around 20 million tons of solid waste every year, with 5 to 10 percent of it being plastic waste. Furthermore, a 2018 study carried out by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) revealed that Pakistan ranks among the top 10 countries globally in terms of plastic pollution, with an estimated 90 percent of plastic waste being inadequately disposed of. Improper waste management, including the indiscriminate disposal of plastic waste, has led to the contamination of our land, rivers, and oceans. This pollution not only harms wildlife and ecosystems but also has adverse implications for human health. To address this issue, the implementation of sustainable waste management practices, encouraging recycling, reducing the use of single-use plastics, and promoting a culture of responsible consumption is required. By embracing these changes, we can mitigate the devastating effects of plastic pollution and restore the health of our environment. How Pakistan can tackle its Environmental Challenges: The numerous environmental challenges that Pakistan faces requires immediate action at the individual, societal, and state level. Although, the government has taken initiatives like banning plastic bags in the capital, plantation yet further awareness and implementation of environmental policies are required. With a special focus on the environment, and adopting renewable strategies one can tackle the environmental challenges. Following are some of the areas where special attention is required to improve the quality of the environment and the challenges related to it. Strengthening Water Management: Pakistan should prioritize water management by investing in infrastructure, such as dams and reservoirs, to enhance water storage capacity and improve irrigation systems. Implementing efficient irrigation techniques and promoting water conservation practices, such as drip irrigation and precision farming, can help reduce water wastage. Additionally, raising awareness about responsible water usage among farmers, industries, and households is crucial to ensure sustainable water management practices are adopted. Promoting Renewable Energy: Transitioning to renewable energy sources is vital for reducing reliance on fossil fuels and mitigating air pollution. Pakistan should prioritize the development of renewable energy infrastructure, such as solar and wind power plants. This includes providing incentives and subsidies for renewable energy projects, streamlining the approval processes, and facilitating access to financing. Public-private partnerships can also play a significant role in promoting renewable energy initiatives. Encouraging Sustainable Agriculture: Promoting sustainable agriculture practices can help minimize environmental impacts while ensuring food security. Pakistan should promote organic farming methods that reduce reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Additionally, promoting agroforestry, crop rotation, and integrated pest management can enhance soil health and biodiversity conservation. Access to affordable and environmentally friendly farming technologies and practices should be provided to farmers, along with training and technical support. Strengthening Biodiversity Conservation: To protect biodiversity, Pakistan should establish and effectively manage protected areas, national parks, and wildlife sanctuaries. This includes strengthening wildlife protection laws, implementing anti-poaching measures, and enhancing wildlife habitat restoration efforts. Engaging local communities in biodiversity conservation initiatives, promoting sustainable tourism practices, and raising public awareness about the importance of preserving ecosystems can also contribute to biodiversity conservation. Improving Waste Management: Pakistan needs to improve waste management systems to combat plastic pollution and ensure proper disposal of other types of waste. This can be achieved by establishing waste segregation and recycling facilities, promoting waste-to-energy conversion technologies, and implementing waste management policies at the local, provincial, and national levels. Public education campaigns should focus on raising awareness about the importance of waste reduction, recycling, and responsible waste disposal practices. Enhancing Environmental Education and Awareness: Integrating environmental education into the curriculum at all levels of education is essential to cultivate environmental consciousness. Pakistan should promote environmental awareness campaigns targeting schools, universities, and the general public. Educating citizens about the importance of environmental conservation, sustainable practices, and the impact of individual actions can foster a culture of environmental stewardship. Strengthening Environmental Governance: Pakistan should strengthen environmental governance by enforcing existing environmental laws and regulations. This involves enhancing institutional capacity, ensuring effective coordination between government departments, and promoting transparency and accountability in decision-making processes. By investing in training and capacity building for environmental regulators and establishing clear guidelines for industries, Pakistan can enhance its environmental governance framework In a nutshell, Pakistan faces numerous environmental challenges that require immediate action. Water scarcity, air pollution, biodiversity loss, and plastic pollution demand our attention and concerted efforts. It is crucial for all stakeholders, including individuals, communities, businesses, and policymakers, to unite in our pursuit of a greener and sustainable future. By prioritizing the conservation and preservation of our natural resources, we can ensure a thriving environment for ourselves and future generations.
It is important that all stakeholders should work together by embracing innovation and sustainable practices, and build a Pakistan that is not only economically prosperous but also environmentally resilient.
The time for action is now. Pakistan can make significant progress in tackling its environmental challenges and create a more sustainable and resilient future for its people and the environment. It requires a collective effort involving government, civil society, the private sector, and individuals to bring about positive change.
The Author is Researcher at the Center for International Strategic Studies, AJK, working on Comprehensive Security and Strategic Stability. She is also an M.Phil. Scholar at Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad.

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir