Billions of dollars of taxpayer and international donor cash have been spent on nature conservation and natural resource protection in Pakistan over the last four decades. None of this has yielded much in terms of positive results. Indeed, the emergence of an elite corps of 'environmentalists' represents the only tangible success. This brigade has profitably harvested the environmental agenda for its own benefit.
Toothless national and international environmental conservation organisations - that, sadly, remain the biggest players in the field and are in cahoots with the state - are investing less and less funds on the ground. Meaning that Mother Earth is being short-changed by those charged with keeping her safe. The environment has been degraded to the point where recovery will only be possible decades from now and, then, only if we maintain future damage at zero control. Pakistan is ranked seventh on the World Bank Vulnerability Index. And to think, the whole world is preparing to celebrate Earth Day on April 22. It is one of several dates in the calendar year that is there to remind each and every one of us to pay our respects to the planet's natural resources. It was a Wisconsin lawmaker, Senator Gaylord Nelson, who first conceived of the idea of Earth Day in 1970. The people warmed to the idea amid growing opposition to industrial tycoons. Five decades on and the battle is still raging. Several other commemorative days soon followed. Unfortunately, their impact is hardly visible. Possibly this is because exploiters wield considerably more power in terms of influencing public policy development and implementation. The Pakistani government's environmental-friendliness can be measured from its record on promoting power plants run on third-rate coal. Soon, many industrial will also be doing the same. And we wonder why air pollution is on the rise in every city of the country.
City governments, including at the federal level, fail to collect half the solid waste that is typically dumped out in the open or in natural streams. The once pure water stream Nullah Leh that originates at the footsteps of the Margalla Hills National Park and runs right through Rawalpindi city centre, today, poses, an extreme health risk for thousands of citizens. This is not an isolated example. Tragically.
The World Bank believes that the global population growth rate has fallen by 0.02 percent to settle at around 1.11 percent, currently. Despite all efforts, Pakistan's population growth rate is still 1.7 percent a year. This is alarming given the rapid rate of natural resource depletion.
Nearly half of the world's population - more than 3 billion people - live on less than $2.5 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty - less than $1.25 a day, and one billion children worldwide are living in poverty. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.
Pakistan has a longstanding relationship with poverty. Over 40 percent of the total population lives in poverty or similar conditions while 23.2 percent live in extreme poverty. What have all our poverty alleviation programmes ever achieved? The citizenry is not the priority of the state. The influential who have embezzled public funds have been set free by the courts.
Pakistan is increasingly failing to manage its human and natural resources, especially in terms of generating new ones. World Bank data shows that Pakistan hardly manages irrigation of 48.2 percent (2001) of total agricultural land - some 46.3 percent of the total land area of Pakistan.
According to the World Bank, Pakistan is one of those countries where the deforestation is too high. The current forest cover in Pakistan is 1.9 percent (2015) as compared to 3.3 percent in 1990. From 1990-2000, Pakistan lost an average of 41,100 hectares of forest per year, amounting to an average annual deforestation rate of 1.63 percent. From 2000-2006, the rate of forest change increased by 24.4 percent - 2.02 percent per annum. UNDP data shows that every year around 70,000 acres of forests are being cut down, and 27,000 acres of fertile land turns barren.
All of this has resulted in Pakistan's increased vulnerability to climate change. Now the country is the 7th most vulnerable in the world. It is more prone to disasters and droughts, unable to adapt and mitigate. Every year disasters occur, resulting in losses worth billions in terms of nature degradation, infrastructure, human life and livelihood. Perhaps we believe in fire fighting more than we do in advanced planning and vigorous management.
According to a UNDP report launched last year: Pakistan's economy is losing one billion rupees (or $9.6 million) a day due to increased environmental degradation. Yet the government's response looks grim. It is spending only 0.00028 per cent of GDP on the environment. Pakistan needs to invest 5 percent of GDP to cope with the issue and mitigate growing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. There is no research work, planning or other concrete efforts to address these challenges despite the country suffering regularly from devastating natural calamities, deteriorating public health issues and low crop yield due to soil degradation. Institutional and regulatory frameworks, human, technical and financial capacities need to be strengthened to confront these challenges. From 2015-16, allocation for the public sector development programme (PSDP) was less than 50 million rupees. And most of this was spent on employees' salaries as well as office administration management. Meaning that there was little, if any, left over to spend on research. Pakistan's federal and provincial governments need to stop wasting time. The clock is ticking. Let all of us use this Earth Day to pledge to be more faithful and caring towards Mother Earth's resources. It is her day, after all.
The writer is an Islamabad-based policy advocacy, strategic communication and outreach expert. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @EmmayeSyed