05 April, 2013

Efforts to uplift Environment on Political Agenda

Sana Jamal

Islamabad – To break the silence of political parties on environmental issues, an interesting dialogue was held in Islamabad that concluded on a hopeful note. The discourse, bringing together top environmental experts and politicians and media representatives, was termed as the beginning of a new era, as all the participants, despite of their professional differences, resolved to take care of the environment in their own capacities. 
The invigorating debate titled: “Highlighting Environment on Election Agenda in Pakistan” that gathered seemingly diverse factions of society was part of National Impact Assessment Programme (NIAP), a joint initiative of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Government of Pakistan. Malik Amin Aslam from Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf, Waqas Khan from Jammat-e-Islami and Syed Zafar Ali Shah from PML (N) were part of the discussion. 

Sharing their thoughts and commitments, they concurred that environment should be a top priority of government at both levels, local and central. Though they thought the initiative to fit in environment in political manifestos was bit late, considering the election timings. But Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, Country Representative of IUCN Pakistan urged that “timing is never right. We have to make it a priority right now!” as environment can no longer stay on the sidelines, as it has become a survival issue for Pakistan. 

Agreeing that environment has not received due attention by politicians yet, Syed Zafar Ali Shah suggested that political affiliation aside, all should work together to help manage environmental issues. 
Weak environmental governance, particularly lack of implementation of policies, was regarded as the key to all problems by the experts. “Lack of political and public ownership to implement policies is the problem” according to Malik Amin Aslam. Sharing his party’s priorities, he informed that environment is one of the top ten visions of his party. 
Waqas Ahmed, citing the example of Madina as a welfare city, said that his party envisions a society like Madina where biodiversity and human rights were considered equally important along with other social reforms. 

An enlightening presentation by Ahmad Saeed, Project Manager NIAP, revealed that the country is already paying a price too high for indifference. “Pakistan ends up losing 365 billion (6% of GDP) annually because of environmental degradation” he told. But the loss of natural resources is what is most disturbing. Country’s forest cover has depleted by 2.1 percent, which is the highest deforestation rate in Asia, according to a WWF report. 

“Environment should be integrated in development, planning and management levels rather than considering it a separate issue,” stressed Dr. Parvaiz Naim. “This way we won't have to deal with environmental issues later on.” Media representatives suggested use of public service campaigns to educate and inform people of the individual actions that can make a difference on our environment. 

Javed Iqbal, a TV journalist, identified that broadcast media used to focus on environmental awareness few years back, “but sadly we are going backwards as the political discussion has replaced all the key issues.” Talat Hussain, a celebrated journalist, summing up the discourse, said that academicians, government officials, media and civil society members, all have to work in collaboration to bring the environmental issues to limelight to make our country a better place to live in. --