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Pakistan Economy loses Rs 365bn annually to environmental hazards

FAST deteriorating environment across the country is causing a huge financial burden to the economy, which is estimated to the tune of Rs 365 billion per annum or six per cent of the GDP.

This was stated by Federal Minister for Environment Hameedullah Jan Afridi while addressing the two-day Global Environment Facility (GEF)-National Dialogue Initiative on Tuesday at a local hotel.

The minister said that chasing growth and development endeavors had put a heavy burden on environment sustainability. “Degradation of environment continues at a very fast rate, affecting livelihoods and health in addition to increasing vulnerability of the poor to disasters and environment related conflicts,” the minister commented.

Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment and GEF Focal Person, Imtiaz Inayat Elahi, was also present. Representatives of the government agencies, international organizations, academics, non-governmental organizations and research institutions also participated in the event.

The minister said pollution of air and water, climate change, ozone depletion, deforestation, desertification and vanishing biodiversity, land degradation, lack of waste management, lack of urban land use planning and zoning and irrational use of natural resources had resulted in ecological imbalances, threatening life and civilization. These imbalances, created by man the over time, need to be addressed with strategic environmental planning and integrated management immediately.

It is obvious, the minister said, that the environment does not exist in isolation and there are several other sectors affecting it to a greater or lesser degree. These sectors come under the purview of different stakeholders, and there is a dire need to address these issues through collective multilateral collaboration.

Hameed Ullah Jan Afridi further said the environmental situation within Pakistan remained no different from that of other developing countries. High population growth rate, low level of public awareness and education, degradation of natural resources, fast urbanization and industrial expansions are all responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves today, he added.

The minister reiterated that the government of Pakistan is fully committed to saving the environment at all levels. He said that as a major step towards achieving this goal, 2009 had been declared as the National Year of Environment. The Ministry of Environment has already initiated a series of planned activities for engaging all stakeholders and beneficiaries towards the common goal of promoting awareness about environmental issues, he maintained.

He said that Pakistan had also covered a number of milestones, having come a long way from the preparation of National Conservation Strategy in 1992 to the formulation of National Environment Policy in 2005. The National Environment Policy, Sanitation Policy and Energy Conservation Policy have already been approved by the Cabinet, and the time is ripe for launching plans and programmes for the enactment of these policies.

The federal minister apprised the participants that our Vision 2030 envisaged, a developed, industrialized, just and prosperous Pakistan through rapid and sustainable development in a resource constrained economy by arranging knowledgeable inputs, preparing for climate change and its likely unfavourable implications and minimizing wastage of natural resources as an important tool for preserving inter-generational equity.

Afridi said the Ministry of Environment was also being supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in its efforts towards environmental development. We have already endorsed the entire allocated GEF portfolio. The Ministry of Environment currently has 51 ongoing projects along with 7 GEF funded projects. Multiple short-term ventures are also underway through the GEF Small Grants Programme. This programme has been going on for more than a decade and has been extremely successful in implementing innovative ideas in different parts of the country. We have success stories about promoting sustainable use practices such as saving endangered species, marketing of medicinal plants, protection of relic forests and introducing policy level interventions for promotion of renewable energy.

The minister said the GEF was playing a critical role in assisting Pakistan in its drive towards achieving sustainable development. However, this is just a drop in the ocean and a continuous need is felt for an increase in the GEF portfolio. By strengthening the role of GEF within the country, we will be in a better position to advance our collective goal of protecting our natural resources and leaving a better world for the future generations. He said this National Dialogue was a part of the efforts of GEF and provided a level-playing forum for consultations to raise awareness about GEF, strengthened national coordination and linked GEF priorities and strategies to a broader national environmental planning and development process. It also offers an opportunity to key stakeholders representing a broad range of expertise for engaging in a deliberate consultation to arrive at the endeavor of further effectual GEF operations in Pakistan.

The minister emphasized that social and natural resource indicators continued to demonstrate the daunting development challenges facing the country. There is a particular need for strengthening environmental management to reduce risks to health and natural resource productivity, and to sustain economic growth. In the present times, we need to learn from our past, design realistic priorities for the future and strive to achieve them in a sustainable and cogent manner. The scale of the problem is too large for the government to address alone. There is a need for collaborative efforts by donors, government machinery, NGOs, private sector and the media. Together we can overcome the vast challenges that daunt us and threaten our livelihoods. He expressed the hope that the substantive outcomes of this dialogue and support of all stakeholders would be able to counter the environmental challenges for making the country environment friendly.

Speaking on the occasion, Punjab Minister for Local Government, Community Development and Environment Sardar Dost Muhammad Khosa said the Government of Pakistan was addressing the global environmental agenda by declaring the 2009 as the National Year of Environment. He reiterated that Punjab government would provide all-out support for addressing the environmental problems, particularly mitigating the effects of climate change, managing the solid wastes, reducing the air pollution and increasing the forest cover in the province. He expressed the hope that the two-day event would help promote GEF initiatives in the country and create awareness regarding environmental issues in the country.

UNDP Resident Coordinator Fikretakura said the world was facing energy and food crisis which called for sustainable development. He said the Ministry of Environment had taken a progressive step by declared 2009 as the National Year of Environment, and developing agencies should come forward to make this initiative a success.

Source: The News, 28-Jan-09

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