Implementing Agenda 21
Pakistan: Implementing Agenda 21 Locally
by Tanveer Arif
Though the sustenance and prosperity of humankind is tied to the sustainable use of fundamental living resources;genes, species, habitats and diversified ecosystems;these are at stake due to high population growth rates, industrialization, urbanization and enhanced economic activities. It has been widely recognized that the factors responsible for the degradation of environments include biological impoverishment, deforestation, unwise consumption patterns by affluent nations, indebtedness of poor nations, skewed land ownership patterns, institutional inertia, cultural preferences, unsustainable migration and settlement patterns, inequitable distribution of wealth, hunger, poverty and pollution.
Such negative trends cannot be reversed unless individuals and societies start behaving rationally, bringing a change in our hunger to consume the world's biotic wealth. Agenda 21 focuses on the new policies and management paradigms needed to integrate the conservation of ecosystems with other development goals, globally.
Human beings must be the central point of any development agenda, and attainment of this ambitious agenda depends on the eradication of poverty and economic disparities within societies. We cannot talk about sustainable development in a world where there is a great imbalance between population and consumption, the North with 25% of the population consuming 75% of the resources, and the South with 75% of the population consuming 25% of the resources.
Agenda 21 envisages a programme of action for sustainable development based on 27 principles, to be implemented by governments with the collaboration and participation of grassroots communities, donors, NGOs, peoples' organizations and donors. Implementation requires a strong worldwide movement of enlightened peoples' organizations, and the creation of a society enriched by full education, employment and empowerment (people having control on their lives and destinies).
SCOPE and the Implementation of Agenda 21
In Pakistan the government has taken the necessary action to implement Agenda 21. Ministries, councils and agencies to work on environmental issues have been created. A National Conservation Strategy (NCS) has also been developed by the government, which identifies 14 core priority areas to fight environmental degradation and pollution.
The Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) is one of the NGOs, which actively participated in the UNCED process, and is committed to working for the implementation of Agenda 21.
Established in 1988, SCOPE adopted "Think Globally, Act Locally" as its motto. SCOPE gave priority to developing linkages with local NGOs, research institutes, universities and government departments. It not only promoted environmental awareness and motivated the grassroots but it also worked to protect public environmental rights through public interest litigation and advocacy work.
SCOPE can classify its activities in accordance with chapters 12, 14 and 15 and 18 of Agenda 21, which look at:
SCOPE Before UNCED
Some of SCOPE's achievements before the Earth Summit are briefly given below, to depict how a small group of volunteers can achieve major results with meagre resources but strong commitment.
Water Purification Programme
Considering that 50% of the population of Pakistan does not have access to safe drinking water, SCOPE launched a clean water programme by developing a community-based drinking water treatment system. SCOPE installed four water purification units in urban and rural communities to provide clean drinking water to residents. These plants are located at Malir Saleh Mohd Village, Rehri Myani and Chanessar Goth. SCOPE has also established a field water testing laboratory to help citizens test drinking water quality.
Saving Kirthar National Park
SCOPE learned that the Indus Highway project was designed in a way that the main highway would be built by cutting through Kirthar National Park, the largest national park in the country. SCOPE filed a writ petition in Sindh High Court on 20 June 1991, challenging the permit issued by the government to construct the highway through the national park. It was the first legal petition on environment in the country's judicial history. Consequently, the merit of the case compelled the government to abandon the highway section through Kirthar.
Legal Fight to Save Houbara Bustard
For a long time the government had been allowing Arab dignitaries to hunt the protected and endangered Houbara Bustard with trained falcons. SCOPE challenged this illegal practice by filing a legal petition in Sindh High Court on 8 January 1992 which was admitted by the court. A favourable verdict was handed down by the court on 16 August 1992, in what the national and international media saw as a landmark in the history of the conservation movement in Pakistan.
Saving Haleji Lake Sanctuary
Similarly, SCOPE came to the rescue of the wildlife and ecology of Haleji Lake Sanctuary, 50 miles northeast of Karachi, to stop illegal commercial fishing in the lake. SCOPE filed lawsuits against corrupt officials and illegal contractors in court and again, a decision in favour of SCOPE was handed down.
Action to Save Manchar Lake
Knowing that Asia's largest freshwater lake was facing degradation due to the influx of saline water from irrigation drainage canals, SCOPE undertook a Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment of Manchar Lake, Dadu District, calling the government's attention to this matter through public complaints and press reports.
SCOPE After UNCED
While SCOPE was extensively active before the Earth Summit, it is clear UNCED galvanized many environmental groups worldwide and renewed and increased their commitments to environmental work.
Immediately after the UNCED, SCOPE decided to play a key role in safeguarding the country's environmental interests. Since the National Conservation Strategy was launched, the official environmental action programme identified land degradation and desertification as the most important priority area of action. Responding to this, SCOPE refocused its work on combating desertification, keenly following the negotiating process of the International Convention on Combating Desertification, and designing its future strategy to implement this convention, which is a product of Agenda 21.
Crusade against Sand Mining in the Malir Valley
Saving Malir Valley from the ill effects of illegal sand mining was a challenge and the test of SCOPE's firm comittment to combat desertification by demonstrating a practical approach to implementing local Agenda 21. SCOPE joined a large group of community-based organizations (CBOs) and farmers who were aware of the severe desertification caused by illegal sand and gravel mining from the beds of the River Malir. SCOPE undertook scientific research, surveys, and organized a series of public hearings and press briefings to attract attention of government, media and NGOs. These efforts bore fruit and sand mining was halted. The government also announced a small dam project to reverse the process of desertification in the valley. SCOPE is also implementing water-thrifty micro-irrigation schemes and projects help communities to fight desertification in the valley.
SCOPE's recently-launched Water Harvesting Programme is proving to be a successful model in the valley.
Fighting against Waterlogging and Salinity
SCOPE has been organizing farming communities in the interior of Sindh Province to launch an action plan to save croplands from the twin menace of waterlogging and salinity, both of which are causing severe desertification and productivity loss in the country. SCOPE has implemented a model eucalyptus plantation at a village near Hyderabad, in an effort to biologically rehabilitate waterlogged lands. The project was implemented with the help of a local CBO.
Aware of the consequences of waterlogging and salinization of soils in Sindh, SCOPE took the initiative and assembled grassroot institutions, NGOs, government departments and international experts to diagnose the constraints and prescribe the solutions, and formulate an action plan to combat soil degradation syndromes.
NGOs Meet on Waterlogging and Follow-up
As a first step towards community participation in combating desertification, SCOPE organized an "All Sindh NGO Conference on Waterlogging and Salinity Check" in Hyderabad on 28-29 March 1994. A large number of representatives of NGOs from the fifteen districts of Sindh, alongwith government officials and experts, took part in the conference.
Organizing the Hyderabad conference was not only a response to a great environmental catastrophe, caused by waterlogging and salinity in Sindh, but also an effort to involve grassroots groups in issues pertaining to natural resource management. It was also designed to promote dialogue between government, aid agencies and NGOs on these vital issues.
Sindh NGO Commission to Fight Waterlogging and Salinity
As a follow-up to this conference, a Sindh NGO Commission on Waterlogging and Salinity" was formed. NGOs from all districts of Sindh are represented on the commission. In October 1994, the commission held its first meeting and elections in Hyderabad. SCOPE was elected Central Focal Point of the commission, with the assistance of four NGOs from four divisions of Sindh. The commission has also adopted terms of reference set its strategy for the future.
SCOPE has been implementing a Support Programme for Arid Zone Development for rehabilitate rural agribusiness, in an effort to eliminate extreme poverty in the vast arid areas around Karachi. this takes place with the active participation of the people of 12 villages and entails the development of water resources, conservation of available water resource-stock, reforestation of arid zones for controlled cattle grazing, and plantation of high-income yielding bushes and tress. The programme is being implemented with the help of local NGOs, to whom SCOPE has providing guidance and training.
SCOPE is also the Regional Focal Point for RIOD in Asia. RIOD is the International NGOs Network on Desertification. In this capacity, SCOPE recently organized an Asian NGOs conference on the implementation of the convention to combat desertification in Islamabad on 27-30 January 1996. The conference was attended by 100 NGO representatives and farmers.
UNCED: The Learning Experience
For us the UNCED has been a continuing source of energy for our work which gives us a new lease of life under the most unfavourable and hostile circumstances. Agenda 21 strengthened our belief that the solution of most complicated problems related to environment and sustainable development is concealed in this document which was negotiated by the governments and civil society in the true sense of responsibility.