Pakistan has one of the most diverse geographical expanses in the world including a varied biomes and an extensive range of habitats within its ecosystems. Mountains, deserts, freshwater lakes, plains, mangrove swamps, forests, coasts and rivers are home to common, unusual and rare flora and fauna. In fact, according to UNEP, in 2011, the ecosystems of South Asia occupied approximately 3.6 per cent of the world’s area but contained 16 per cent of floral and 12 per cent of faunal species. With its dramatic geological history, broad latitudinal spread and immense altitudinal range, the ecological habitats of Pakistan support a rich variety of species creating the remarkable biodiversity of the country. High population growth, deforestation and climate change have, however, been putting escalating pressure on the natural resources of the country.
One of the key challenges to conservation in the face of the need for industrialisation is financing. With government budgets strapped and limited focus on any social concerns, conservation typically takes a backseat in public financing. In an unprecedented move, the government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir has signed a landmark agreement with a corporate entity for implementation of a Biodiversity Action Plan for the Poonch River Mahaseer National Park located in AJK.
This agreement is the first of its kind in Pakistan where the government and the private sector are formally collaborating on a long term basis to manage the national park which was established to protect the Golden Mahaseer, a fish listed as endangered by the IUCN.
Mira Power Ltd., a subsidiary of Korea South East Power (KOSEP), is developing the 102MW Gulpur Hydro Power Project on the Poonch River, a habitat rich in biodiversity and, therefore, of concern to conservationists. The project is funded by a consortium of financiers including the International Finance Corporation and the Asian Development Bank, which mandate that the project must achieve a net gain in biodiversity which is an unusual but laudable goal for a private project.
In a typical project in Pakistan, the endangered species would be ignored in the planning phase and the populations would be rapidly decimated with the construction and operations of a hydroelectric power project. In this case the commitment of the various stakeholders will ensure that the ecological costs of the project are mitigated and the impacts of human settlement and environmental exploitation in the area are reversed. Meanwhile, international examples of effective corporate Biodiversity Action Plans abound.
In the UK, the Stanlow Manufacturing Complex, situated south of the Mersey estuary is in close proximity to a range of protected areas, including Ramsar and Natura 2000 sites. Stanlow’s Biodiversity Action Plan aims to both manage and increase the number of conservation areas around the site, while contributing to the protection of biodiversity in the surrounding area through partnerships and provision of funding for external initiatives. With the creation of new habitats and careful action, the site is now rich in flora and fauna – a substantial improvement on the biodiversity status prior to development and implementation of the action plan. Similarly, the BP Indonesia Biodiversity Action Plan illustrates an integrated and targeted programme that addresses biodiversity issues in a proactive manner, building local capacity and protecting sensitive environments.
This public-private partnership to preserve a national park in AJK comes at a time when environmental and ecological concerns have been brought to centre stage with the Paris Agreement where all the countries have agreed to hold global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius. At the moment the ecological footprint of the human race exceeds the bio-capacity of the planet, and it is critical that people realise that all stakeholders must work together to ensure the preservation of fragile ecosystems.
Public-private partnerships are contractual arrangements in which the private sector assists in delivering a public facility or service by providing funding or technical support. As the environment is impacted for private profit, the private sector is in a position to provide the funding necessary to balance or reverse the impact of the economic activity.
In developing countries in particular where governments have to manage costs and are increasingly under pressure due to rising populations, public-private partnerships are clearly an effective way to fill the gap between the need for a service and the government’s ability to pay for it. Additionally, conservation is a complex activity which must be embedded within the economic, social and environmental development strategies that can use the expertise of private sector specialists.
National parks in developing countries are home to many undervalued natural assets and they lack enough funds to pay for staff salaries, patrol vehicles, and wildlife conservation programmes. Insufficiently protected, these parks are vulnerable to poaching, deforestation, and illegal use by local communities. Responsible commercialisation through public-private partnerships has resulted in a Biodiversity Action Plan that will be the saving of the Mahaseer National Park and future face of tangible environmental preservation.
The author is a development consultant in Islamabad working on sustainable livelihoods.
SYEDA SHEHRBANO KAZIM