Progress in Pakistan: An Interview with Hammad Naqi Khan of WWF-Pakistan

Hammad Naqi Khan is Director of Programs at WWF – Pakistan and an expert on field-based environmental and water resource management projects. We caught up with Hammad during a recent conference in Washington, where he told us how WWF – Pakistan is working to prepare government and local communities to face the challenges of climate change.

ClimatePrep: WWF-Pakistan has made great progress in incorporating adaptation into its programs. Can you tell us about some of the projects that are currently going on?

HNK: Well, we have two meta-goals – conserving biodiversity, and addressing humanity’s ecological footprint. And we know that part of the way to meet these goals – a very important part – is to help people adapt to the way the world is changing. Whether it’s because of climate change, or anything else.

One program in which we’ve incorporated adaptation is the Indus For All Program. This is in the delta of the Indus River. It’s a WWF Priority region, and we work with communities there to help them adapt to climate change. One of the project sites is Keti Bunder, a coastal village where 200,000 acres of land have already been lost to the sea. With climate change happening, sea levels will rise more, so we’re helping the community plant mangroves. And if they have cyclones, the mangroves will help with those as well (See BBC article about mangroves and coastal protection).

Another program we have is the Indus Basin Water Security project. What’s happening here is that the Indus River, you could say the lifeblood of the country, runs dry in its last stretch. There are management issues in the upper riparian areas , and so the coastal belt doesn’t get enough of an e-flow [environmental flow ]. The people living along the coastal belt are suffering because their livelihoods are impacted, and they literally become environmental refugees. The mangroves suffer too, because they need a regular supply of sea water and freshwater to survive. And sea intrusion is a problem, because there isn’t enough freshwater coming to counter it. What we’re trying to do here is bring all stakeholders to one platform, so that solutions can be found and e-flows protected. This will bring flourishing flora and fauna which will bring economic and social development to the people, and this will increase the people’s adaptive capacity when it comes to climate change. We’ve taken an official position on this so that the government also feels the urgency. And as a result, the government has already identified e-flows as an adaptation measure in its future climate change planning.

The Pakistan Wetlands Program is another of our ventures. Pakistan has about 225 wetlands. They’re hugely important in the lives of rural community members like fisher folk, hunters, and grazers. They have a lot of socio-economic value and a huge diversity of mammals, birds and reptiles. Now, the wetlands are threatened by climate change, and by the communities themselves because their activities aren’t sustainable. At WWF– Pakistan, we’re taking a broad participatory approach to promote increased public, institutional and policy support for the wetlands. We’re trying to involve the communities by supporting the local institutions, userrights agreements and alternative income generation, all of which will help these communities deal with a changing climate.

Then, another venture is the Promoting Better Management Practices in Thirsty Crops project. Pakistan grows a lot of sugarcane and cotton, and these take a lot of water and cause a lot of pollution. What I mean is that sugarcane needs more water per unit area that any other crop, and cotton uses 70% of all the pesticides applied in the country. Now, 95% of Pakistan’s freshwater goes to agriculture. 30-40% of this water is lost in the delivery system. Then, rainfall patterns have become erratic because of global warming, and that’s put even more pressure on the irrigation system. It’s the coastal areas that – well, that most feel the effect of all this. As adaptation measures, we’re educating the people in the upper riparian areas to save water, and we’re discouraging indiscriminate usage of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. And we’ve already established 25-30% water savings!

ClimatePrep: Given the ecological, social, and political realities of Pakistan, why is adaptation such an important pillar of WWF’s conservation work?

HNK: Well, it has to do with the fact that although Pakistan’s per capita emission is 0.76 tons of carbon dioxide, the global average is 4.18. That means that we’re 135th in the world in terms of emissions. But we suffer along with everyone else, even though our contribution is tiny compared to that of the rest of the world. So no matter how many resources we conserve, we also have to adapt, because climate change is happening whether we have a major contribution to make to it, or not. And the government of Pakistan has identified that the country’s main thrust should be adaptation.

ClimatePrep: What is your long-term strategy? How do you hope Pakistan will respond to the effects of climate change in the next 5 to 10 years and beyond?

HNK: Our long-term strategy is a mixture of mitigation and adaptation activities, and we’re focusing on adaptation. At WWF – Pakistan, one of our highest priorities is the conservation and monitoring of ecosystems like forests and wetlands. With forests we want the government to emphasize natural forests as well as plantations. In a report that came out some time ago the government recognized the importance of forests and wetlands, and they’ve asked us to play the lead role in their working group on forestry.

Pakistan is facing a great threat to its water, food and energy security because of climate change. At WWF – Pakistan, we want to go into the issues of water and food security, because they’re directly linked. We’re taking up the issues of water and agriculture. We’re coming up with policy recommendations on cropping patterns, water resource management and water pricing.

We need to make sure that there are at least minimum water flows in the last stretch of the Indus River, because around 2.26 million people depend on the river for their livelihoods. We’re planning studies to find out how much water is needed for these flows. The government has its own findings, and we’re going to lobby them to implement those findings immediately. We also want them to revisit their studies a year or two from now, and make an institutional mechanism that will take care of their implementation.

Climate change is already happening, and in Pakistan it’s bringing stronger cyclones and drought. We plan to build the adaptive capacity (i.e. the ability of people and species to adapt to changing environmental conditions) of the local government and the communities so that they can have an effective response to them. We’re going to do a vulnerability assessment, and then put the adaptation plans to work. These climate change adaptation plans will be integrated into development, irrigation, water and agricultural policies. Then we’re going to collaborate with neighboring countries and share the lessons learnt. It’s a great way to work!

In the next 5-10 years, Pakistan’s going to be busy. The government’s beginning by identifying the focal ministry for climate change, as well as the areas they’re going to touch in their taskforce report. As a first step, they’re in the process of making a national policy on climate change, and then they’ll make the action plans, and we’re helping the government do both.

As for WWF – Pakistan, we’re going to recommend to the government that they come up with solutions to climate change giving the proper weight to socio-economic factors. We’re also going to ask them to take up adaptation at the local government level, so that they can work at the grassroots level.

It sure is an interesting time to be alive…

Hammad Naqi Khan is Director of Programmes at WWF – Pakistan, an organization he joined in August 1997. He has over nineteen years of experience in environmental monitoring, planning, advocacy and lobbying as well as development and execution of field-based environmental and water resource management projects. He obtained his MSc Engineering in Water and Environment Management from the University of Birmingham, UK and is a LEAD Fellow (Leadership for Environment and Development).