Coastal Pollution – A Serious Food Security and Health Risk

Sameer Nazir
KARACHI:
The 13th meeting of National Coordinating Body of Mangroves for the Future Programme (MFF) Pakistan was held in Karachi today. The meeting was chaired by the Secretary, Ministry of Climate Change, Mr. Arif Ahmed Khan and attended by Ms. Aban Marker Kabraji, Regional Director, IUCN Asia, and representatives of the provincial government agencies of Sindh and Balochistan, the private sector, NGOs, academia and research institutions.

In his opening remarks the Secretary termed unabated coastal pollution as a serious health risk posed by the bioaccumulation of chemical pollutants in the food chain. He stressed the need for addressing this issue on an urgent basis through policy implementation and mega sewage treatment schemes. He termed current efforts as insufficient and underscored the role of coastal government agencies in this respect. He also called for steps to integrate environmental concepts into existing academic curriculums

Ms. Aban Marker Kabraji, Regional Director, IUCN Asia, explaining the levels of pollution along the Karachi coast, said that due to increased pollution along the coast, marine animals such as shellfish and crabs when eaten pose serious health risks to human as they absorb most of the pollution coming into the sea. Explaining an MFF-funded crab-fattening project, Ms. Kabraji said, “There is considerable potential in Pakistan to promote organic seafood farming through private-sector engagement and linking producers with international buyers to generate price premium for the coastal communities through such ventures. She cited the successful Vietnam model which provides insights into such successful collaborations.

In support of the views expressed by the Secretary, she suggested that the MFF Programme could help in building capacities of local tertiary institutions in offering courses in Integrated Coastal Management, through the support of IUCN regional experts. She highlighted the significance of investing in coastal resources management and integration of gender aspects into project-planning so as to encourage greater involvement of women in the decision-making process.

Syed Mahmood Nasir, Inspector General of Forests informed that under the international conventions Pakistan was obligated to establish Marine Protected Areas. He termed harmful and illegal fishing practices as serious threats to food security and biodiversity loss in coastal areas of Pakistan which needed to be addressed on a priority basis.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, Country Representative, IUCN Pakistan, pointed out that 12% of the area of the country was ‘protected areas’, but Pakistan still lagged behind several countries as there was not a single marine area designated as protected in Pakistan.

Mr. Ghulam Qadir Shah, National Coordinator MFF Programme presented details of the progress made under MFF in Pakistan and the programme’s future plans. He informed that the MFF Programme was greatly contributing to capacity building of government, civil society, the private sector and local communities and promoting investment in coastal resources conservation through its grants program.

MFF, a regional initiative, which came about after the 2004 Tsunami, left many countries vulnerable to the rapid depletion of coastal resources. It initially focused on the countries worst affected by the tsunami i.e., India, Indonesia, Maldives, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, and Thailand but has recently expanded to include Pakistan, Bangladesh and Viet Nam.

MFF activities in Pakistan are being implemented through small and medium grant projects, which is unique in a way because it is open to a vast segment including, governmental organisations, civil society, the media and the academia, that are interested in implementing projects along the Pakistani coast. Though MFF uses mangroves as a flagship ecosystem in recognition of the destruction caused to mangroves by the tsunami, MFF is inclusive of all coastal ecosystems, including coral reefs, estuaries, lagoons, sandy beaches, sea grasses and wetlands.

In Pakistan, the Ministry of Environment acts as the National Focal Agency for supervising and guiding the implementation of project activities through IUCN Pakistan.