KARACHI: World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) Pakistan has launched Indus Ecoregion Community Livelihood Project (IECLP), supported by Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF) and the World Bank, on Thursday at a local hotel in Karachi.The project is aimed to provide alternative livelihood opportunities and improve capacity of fisher communities in four priority sites of the Indus Ecoregion namely Keenjhar Lake (Thatta district), Manchar Lake (Jamshoro district), Chotiari Wetlands Complex (Sanghar district) and Nara Wetlands Complex (Khairpur district). The event was attended by government officials, academia, civil society and local community representatives.Secretary, Sindh Forest and Wildlife Department, Manzoor Ali Shaikh said that Sindh is facing multiple socio-ecological and economic problems, which need to be addressed on an urgent basis. He emphasized the need to enhance community ownership and highlighted that local communities should not rely on outside support. He also shared that international organizations are here to provide us technical support and guidance hence; sustainable models need to be created for long term benefits of the communities. He said that department is providing valuable input and suggestions to the programme in its role as the member of the Indus Ecoregion Steering Committee (IESC) and in his capacity as Secretary Forests and Wildlife he will also be Chair of the Sub-Committee of IESC. He also committed to providing continued support to IECLP at the target priority sites.Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General WWF-Pakistan said that the IECLP is aimed at conserving natural resources, enhancing alternative livelihoods and reducing poverty in the Indus Ecoregion. ‘Conservation processes take time and commitment from all stakeholders especially communities who depend on natural resources’ he observed. The challenge is so huge that WWF-Pakistan alone cannot tackle it and hence, joint efforts of all stakeholders are required to address the issues of conservation and sustainable livelihood of local communities.Melissa Williams, Senior Rural Development Specialist, Agriculture Global Practice, South Asia Region, World Bank in her address through skype shared that the World Bank is committed to collaborate and share knowledge for the implementation of this project. She called for developing synergies between IECLP and other projects being supported by World Bank in Sindh. She also emphasized that this is a great opportunity to bring together the economic development and poverty reduction agenda for conservation of these critical ecosystems.Yasuharu Shinto, Acting Consul-General, Consulate General of Japan in Karachi, said that Japan recognizes the importance of socio-economic development in local communities through improvements of their livelihood, showing his expectation for IECLP’s contribution, especially with supporting women, children and people with disabilities. Also, he reiterated Japan’s commitment to continue to provide its support to Pakistan.Rab Nawaz, Senior Director Programmes, WWF-Pakistan, shared that Indus Ecoregion supports rich biodiversity, including unique birds and animals. He further said that the WWF-Pakistan has tried to address the issues of natural resource management, pollution, sea erosion, loss of species, deforestation, hunting of birds and animals, and poverty through different projects in the ecoregion. Ali Dehlavi, Interim Head Sindh and Balochistan, WWF-Pakistan, briefed the participants about IECLP objectives and expected outcomes. He said that project would focus on gender empowerment, awareness raising and capacity building of local fisher communities. He shared that the project would organize fisher groups/ cooperatives and develops effective and sustainable market linkages. The IECLP will also incorporate climate change adaptation practices. Nasir Ali Panhwar, Executive Director Centre for Environment and Development said that due to mismanagement of natural resources in rural Sindh options for livelihood diversification are limited. In this regard, more possibilities need to be explored for sustainable alternative livelihood, he added. He further highlighted situation of freshwater wetlands in Sindh has been deteriorating and an integrated approach is required for their restoration. Shamul Haq Memon, Former Secretary, Sindh Wildlife and Forests department; Abdul Fatah Tunio, Senior Chief Agriculture, Planning and Development department; Agha Tahir, Conservator Mangroves, Sindh Wildlife Department; Dr. Shahid Amjad of Institute of Business Management; Riaz Wagan Conservator Forest Department; Umair Shahid, NIO Coordinator, WWF-Pakistan; Ghulam Qadir Shah of IUCN and community representatives Majeed Mangrio and Kamal Palari also spoke at the occasion while Jameel Junejo, Manager Programmes Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum and representatives of government departments were present in the event.