Change for the Better is on the Way

By Abbas Wafa

Hundrap Lake, Ghizar, Gilgit-Baltistan Photo ©Doug Kuzmiak

Gilgit - Baltistan, located at the extreme north of Pakistan, has a unique ecosystem being home to some of the world’s highest mountain peaks and longest glaciers. The snow capped mountains and glaciers of Gilgit – Baltistan are the major sources of water for the Indus River. Small and large lakes also benefit from the water generated by melting of snow in this region. These lakes constitute the high altitude wetlands of the region.

The wetlands are ecologically important because they lie along the migratory route known as the Indus Flyway and provide habitat for many resident and migratory waterfowl and other birds. Many rare and endangered mammals also depend on the food web of these wetlands. Furthermore, various medicinal plants and trees grow in these areas.

Sustainability of high altitude wetlands ecosystem in Gilgit-Baltistan has been negatively affected by a number of short and long term threats, including illegal hunting and poaching of wild ungulates and shooting of birds, usually for meat and sale; excessive cutting of forests for firewood and timber;over grazing of pasture by Utter Lake Photo ©Raja Abid Ali/WWF-P

Livestock contamination of waters with chemicals and toxic wastes; unmanaged tourism; accelerated flash floods; glacial failure; landslides and river band erosion. Increasing population and uncoordinated development are also putting tremendous pressure on these wetlands. Other causative factors are extreme poverty, lack of alternatives, weak law enforcement, and lack of awareness, education and most prominently climate change.

Saving Wetlands Sky High Programme in Pakistan was initiated in July, 2007, Saving Wetlands Sky High Programme is a regional initiative being implemented in five countries including Bhutan, Nepal, India, China and Pakistan to build national stakeholders and partners in the protction of freshwaters ecosystems and associted biodiversity of the region.

Saving Wetlands Sky High is WWF network’s regional programmeme to conserve and manage threatened high altitude wetlands ecosystem and its associated biodiversity and livelihoods by engaging local partners in culturally amicable ways, in Bhutan, Nepal, India, China, and Pakistan. WWF Netherlands has been providing funds for the programme. WWF International is the executive agency whereas the country offices implement their respective components at country level.

The WWF-Pakistan works in close Khalti Lake Photo ©Doug Kuzmiak collaboration with GB Forest and Fisheries Departments. Nongovernmental organizations like Aga Khan Rural Support Programmeme (AKRSP), Programme for Mountain Area Conservation (PMAC) and lo communities through their representative bodies i.e.the Proper Ishkoman Development Organization (PIDO) and Shandur Local Support Organization (SLSO) are amonst key partners in implementing this project.

The lack of appreciation for conservation, weaker under-standing of conservation and the lack of information, awareness and skills were the major hurdles for implantation of the project since its inception. Consistent efforts of the project team have, however, improved awareness level among the local people, and have created a better understanding of conservation issues and high altitude wetlands ecosystem functions and values.

Some conflicts on resources use rights confession among the various interest groups from the communities also appeared at the beginning of the project implementation but were managed through consultation and conciliation.

Since the beginning, the project is endeavoring hard to impart conservation values about high altitude wetlands to villagers and other target groups through various awareness raising activities, using different tools and techniques. Local communities, school children and teachers are specifically informed about wetlands, their ecology, functions and conservation issues. As a result of these activities, till December, 2009, almost all of the project area schools (18) have started conservation activities and 18 nature clubs have been formed. Now these clubs are also playing their active role in the conservation of HAWs.

It is the result of the project awareness raising activities that HAWs are important agenda of discussions in village forums and the villagers are actively taking part in solid waste campaigns around the lake of Shandur Handrap and utter. Majority of the local women are well aware of basic health, hygiene and conservation issues. Climate change has appeared as one of the most important concerns for the communities.

Saving Wetlands Sky High is WWF network’s regional programmeme to conserve and manage threatened high altitude wetlands ecosystem and its associated biodiversity and livelihoods by engaging local partners in culturally amicable ways, in Bhutan, Nepal, India, China, and Pakistan. WWF Netherlands has been providing funds for the programme. WWF International is the executive agency whereas the country offices implement their respective components at country level.

The WWF-Pakistan works in close Khalti Lake Photo ©Doug Kuzmiak collaboration with GB Forest and Fisheries Departments. Nongovernmental organizations like Aga Khan Rural Support Programmeme (AKRSP), Programme for Mountain Area Conservation (PMAC) and lo communities through their representative bodies i.e.the Proper Ishkoman Development Organization (PIDO) and Shandur Local Support Organization (SLSO) are amonst key partners in implementing this project.

The lack of appreciation for conservation, weaker under-standing of conservation and the lack of information, awareness and skills were the major hurdles for implantation of the project since its inception. Consistent efforts of the project team have, however, improved awareness level among the local people, and have created a better understanding of conservation issues and high altitude wetlands ecosystem functions and values.

Some conflicts on resources use rights confession among the various interest groups from the communities also appeared at the beginning of the project implementation but were managed through consultation and conciliation.

Since the beginning, the project is endeavoring hard to impart conservation values about high altitude wetlands to villagers and other target groups through various awareness raising activities, using different tools and techniques. Local communities, school children and teachers are specifically informed about wetlands, their ecology, functions and conservation issues. As a result of these activities, till December, 2009, almost all of the project area schools (18) have started conservation activities and 18 nature clubs have been formed. Now these clubs are also playing their active role in the conservation of HAWs.

It is the result of the project awareness raising activities that HAWs are important agenda of discussions in village forums and the villagers are actively taking part in solid waste campaigns around the lake of Shandur Handrap and utter. Majority of the local women are well aware of basic health, hygiene and conservation issues. Climate change has appeared as one of the most important concerns for the communities.

Ecologically sensitive Shandur Wetlands Complex  Photo Doug Kuzmiak

Photo ©Doug Kuzmiak Sensitive Shandur Wetlaands area

Several meetings and consultative sessions have been conducted to discuss and agree upon adaptations measures to deal with emerging climate change issues. Majority of the inhabitants of HAWs, now, are well aware of climate change and its negative impacts. In order to cope with adaptation related climate change impacts, the project team has developed community action plans for Handrap and Ishkoman valleys and the implementation is in progress.

In fact, only this is not enough further more efforts are needed to study fast changing climate patterns and their impacts on High Altitude Wetlands and their biodiversity.

Another achievement of the project team is that illegal hunting, fishing and cutting of green forest trees have been restricted. No illegal hunting, or shooting of birds have been reported in 2007, 08 and 09. Population of threatened animals and birds seems to have increased. Latest Wildlife census reveals a considerable increase in the ungulate and birdlife population in the project sites. GB Forest & Wildlife department has notified Ishkoman valley as Community Managed Conservation Area and provided two Ibex Trophy Hunting permits to the community considering the community efforts successful.

In order to promote eco-friendly tourism, the construction of two tourist information centres is another milestone in the history of conservation in Gilgit valley. The project team has completed the tourist centre in Ishkoman and all the promotional and awareness material are available there. Second tourist center in Handrap is under construction.

Another notable achievement of the project team is that two high altitude wetlands have been proposed for Ramsar designation after conducting detailed surveys of different high altitude wetlands in the region. These surveys were conducted in collaboration with Pakistan Wetlands Programme. The project team has also supported Pakistan Wetlands programme in developing National Policy on wetlands.

Though the project is about to end but its long term effects are already getting visible. The desired objectives of the project have been achieved but there is still need for more awareness raising activities and conservation efforts for the high altitude wetlands.

Phunder Lake Photo ©Doug Kuzmiak

More educational and awareness-raising activities must continue to highlight the significance of high altitude lakes, their socio-economic and eco-logical im portance both for present and future generation, as part of a broader conservation agenda.

Scientific research and updated knowledge is key to science based conservation and management of natural resources. Wetlands Education for Boys Photo ©Doug KuzmiakTherefore, scientificresearch also needs to be continued for improved management of these important wetlands.

The Saving Wetlands Sky High project has by and large achieved the intended objectives but further and a long term consistency and coordinated efforts are needed to reach the broader vision. Smaller and short term interventions can obviously give short term results but not always produce inspiring impacts.

In order to continue with high altitude wetlands management work for greater success, a long term support is required for their conservation.

Teru Training Certificate Recipients Photo ©Doug Kuzmiak

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