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WWF moves SC for demarcation of 250 protected areas

WWF moves SC for demarcation of 250 protected areas

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was requested on Saturday to order demarcation of about 250 protected areas in the country, such as national parks, game reserves and wildlife sanctuaries, which might be threatened in the wake of extensive development work carried out under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

An application moved by Ahmer Bilal Soofi on behalf of the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature, Pakistan, argued that such a step would ensure that stakeholders align their development, investment and expansion plans in accordance with the restrictions placed under the law and would be useful for investors as well as the federal, provincial, district and foreign governments.

The application is expected to be taken up on Monday by a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar that is hearing a suo motu case relating to the cutting of trees in the Margalla Hills National Park and extensive quarrying work being carried out in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

It says the exercise is needed so that further damage to protected areas and harm to protected wildlife is stopped

Advocate Soofi, who also happens to be president of the WWF, told Dawn that around 11 per cent of its land or approximately 250 areas in Pakistan were protected or reserved sanctuaries where no development work should be undertaken, but lack of proper demarcation helped encroachers grab land illegally.

The application has requested the court to order the Surveyor General of Pakistan to undertake a survey by employing a Geographic Information System-based delineation of the notified protected areas of Pakistan. The funding and facilitation for the project could be provided by the federal government, the application said, while the climate change ministry and provincial wildlife, forestry and fisheries departments could assist the endeavour in public interest.

Such an exercise was urgently needed so that further damage to the protected areas as well as harm to the protected wildlife could be stopped, the application said.

A GIS-based delineation system would help inform the innocent buyers and unaware potential developers of the encumbrances on the properties falling within the protected areas because ambiguity about the status of a particular property could lead to fraudulent schemes and damage to the protected areas.

The information currently available about the boundaries of the protected areas existed only in the form of notifications and sketch maps. In some of these notifications localities, water channels or any other landmarks were considered references, the application argued, adding that such references were not reliable in the long run as conditions changed with the passage of time. For example a water channel could change its course.

Moreover, these references were often generalised in nature and could cause inaccuracies vis-a-vis positions as well as areas, the application contended. The GIS technology provided an opportunity to define the boundary of a region with accuracy. Hence, to avoid ambiguities and errors, GIS-based demarcation and notification was necessary.

According to the application, there are a number of notifications which have been issued by the relevant governments in relation to the protected areas throughout Pakistan. Such notifications have been issued under different federal and provincial enactments applicable to the four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. However, despite these notifications, boundaries of these areas have not been accurately identified.

The application recalled that Pakistan had ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which came into force in 1994. Within the same framework, the Paris Climate Accord was signed in 2016 which dealt with greenhouse gas emission mitigation and came into force in Pakistan in December of 2016.

To meet Pakistan’s obligations under the international conventions, the Pakistan Climate Change Act 2017 was enacted and pursuant to Section 12 of this act, the Pakistan Climate Change Fund was established that may be utilised to provide financial assistance to appropriate projects, according to the WWF application.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2018

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