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Monday, July 15, 2024

Living Indus initiative of Pakistan: A major step towards climate change crises

Living Indus is an umbrella initiative and a call to action to lead and consolidate initiatives to restore the ecological health of the Indus within the boundaries of Pakistan, which is most vulnerable to climate change. Extensive consultations with the public sector, private sector, experts, and civil society led to a ‘living’ menu of 25 preliminary interventions.

The Indus River has served as the vibrant core of the social, cultural, and economic life of what is today called Pakistan for well over a documented 5,000 years. But, today, one is forced to wonder if it will be able to do so even for another 100 years. Much of Pakistan is sustained and defined by Indus Basin. As a matter of fact, 90% of Pakistan’s people and more than three-quarters of its economy resides in it besides irrigating more than 80% of Pakistan’s arable land with its waters. Moreover, nine out of the ten largest cities in Pakistan are situated within 50 km or less of the waters of the Indus.

No danger is more existential to today’s Pakistan than the perils of unabated climate change and the havoc it could play with the Indus Basin. Pakistan is consistently ranked as amongst the ten most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change, most of the impacts on the Indus system. All this calls for ushering into the age of adaptation while carbon emissions continue unabated.

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Climate change for Pakistan is primarily a water challenge

Against this backdrop, a multi-billion dollar ‘Living Indus Initiative’ was launched last year in September by the Ministry of Climate Change, Pakistan in partnership with the United Nations. It is undoubtedly the biggest climate adaptation project in Pakistan. It aims to restore and repair the natural resources and ecosystems of the Indus Basin to ensure that they are resilient to climate change. The document outlines 25 high-impact interventions for policymakers, practitioners, and civil society to lead and support the ecological restoration of the Indus Basin.

The interventions which are evolving in nature have emerged from the process of consultation with national and provincial policymakers, experts and civil society. The interventions emphasize nature-based solutions, green infrastructure and ecosystem-based adaptation approaches to protect, conserve and restore a natural, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems.

It is pertinent to mention that these interventions cut across multiple sectors like agriculture, forestation, urban resilience, waste management, pollution and the blue economy with 16 of them creating flood resilience in the vulnerable parts of the country. Sherry Rehman, Minister for Climate Change, Pakistan said while launching the project that “the marine species are under threat whereas the most at risk are the humans living across the mighty river. The Indus River exploded due to massive floods in 2010 and in recent torrential rains. We will have to find ways to revive natural routes of the Indus River.”

The 25 priority interventions put focus on nature-based resilience agriculture, salinity control in the lower Indus, Indus delta protection, Indus clean-up from industrial effluent, green infrastructure, groundwater governance, 100,000 community bonds, Indus knowledge platform, Indus Trust Fund, climate performance bonds, zero plastic waste cities and an urban forest along Indus, Indus Protection Act, building back biodiversity in Indus basin, community-based tourism in Sindh, promoting permaculture and others.

In total, the initiative’s 25 interventions will cost USD 11-17 billion

In realizing the Living Indus Initiative’s vision, five domains stand out as being particularly important. Firstly, citizen-led action will not only have to be enabled and welcomed to a greater extent, but it will also have to become a central feature of how development is planned and realized in the Indus Basin. Secondly, all activities must be “Nature Positive”.  In other words, all development activity by the government, local authorities, private companies, or communities must be planned and executed in a way that leaves nature, biodiversity, and ecosystems better off than they were before the development activity began. Indus Protection Act complements it.

Thirdly, Pakistan must develop a sustainable finance roadmap that spells out the pathways and milestones for a transition of its financial system to more environmentally friendly forms of investment and expenditure in both the private and public sectors. The Initiative particularly focuses on the development of new and innovative financial instruments – such as green bonds and debt-for-nature swaps. Fourthly, a comprehensive survey of potential technology applications should be commissioned. Technology can break down the barriers that currently impede citizen action and is a powerful tool for greater transparency. Lastly, regional cooperation particularly with India around shared water resources should be done vis-à-vis international river basins like Indus.

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Undoubtedly, the initiative looks promising. The Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC) must be given due credit for initiating the largest-ever climate adaptation project in Pakistan after taking all the stakeholders on board. It has certainly brought the obscure climate discourse to the fore. For its effective implementation, rigorous environmental diplomacy must take place to pool finances in conjunction with climate-sensitive governance at the national level.


The Author teaches in the Department of Political Science and IR, University of Central Punjab Lahore. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.