The World Bank defines blue economy as “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem”. Pakistan is blessed with a rich and diverse coastline of almost 1000 km which provides plenty of potential for a thriving blue economy and there are plans underway to facilitate further investments in this domain.
In recent years, Pakistan has taken many decisive measures to achieve its sustainable development targets. However, the coastal ecosystem has received little attention and there are plenty of dire consequences waiting to happen.
Human activity has already deteriorated the health of oceans across the world. Moreover, technological innovation and scientific discoveries cannot keep up with the scale of industrial activity that is affecting the oceans.
Ocean and marine life preservation is a crucial component of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 2021-2030 has been declared as ‘Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development’ by the United Nations. This signifies the growing need to better understand our coastal areas and act swiftly to address the challenges.
The future of our world’s oceans is at a critical point with coastal resources being threatened by land-based activities.
— UN Environment Programme (@UNEP) June 23, 2021
Addressing the challenges
The need to support research on oceans has become even more crucial because of climate change. Being one of the most vulnerable countries, Pakistan has to carefully undertake the development of its coastal regions. More importantly, the government has to regulate and bring under control all the human activities that are causing coastal and marine pollution.
Untreated wastewater and industrial waste end up in the ocean which leads to economic, health, and biodiversity losses. In order to preserve the ecosystem, urgent actions are required such as enhancing the waste management capability of cities, encouraging recycling and banning plastic products, creating public awareness, and sewage treatment. Moreover, environmental regulations need to be strictly enforced and industries should be given incentives to shift towards eco-friendly practices.
As stated above, there is a huge potential of expanding Pakistan’s blue economy but the social and environmental costs could be much higher than the benefits if the challenges are not addressed. Rather than focusing on pollution-intensive industries, more sustainable economic activities should be promoted in the coastal areas.
Developing sustainable coastal tourism in Pakistan
Pakistan’s tourism sector has grown rapidly in recent years but coastal tourism is so far constrained due to limited options and difficult access. If this sector grows sustainably in the coming years then it can make a significant contribution to the economy and promote the country’s image as well.
The majority of Pakistan’s coastal line lies in Balochistan which is mostly uninhabited. Due to lack of human activity, the coastal areas of Balochistan are well preserved and have the potential to be attractive tourist destinations.
Government should facilitate sustainable development of tourist destinations in those areas. Tourist accommodations are also a source of wastewater therefore treatment plants should be set up in those areas. Moreover, only a limited number of sites should be developed to protect the oceans from over-tourism.
Countries that are heavily dependent on coastal tourism have already adopted measures to make the industry more sustainable. Environmental Impact Assessments are now increasingly carried out in this sector across the world. The sensitivity of the location determines the criteria and keeping in view Pakistan’s vulnerability, the coastal areas need to be regarded as highly sensitive.
The environmental degradation caused by unchecked tourism accommodation development in Pakistan’s northern areas is clearly visible. Due to the huge demand for affordable accommodation during the peak periods, many small-scale hotels have been built. Such projects do not pass through any scrutiny which leads to environmental, biodiversity, and even aesthetics losses.
Moreover, cutting down trees to make way for hotels has been a source of soil erosion and landslides. The tourism departments and hotels must learn from past mistakes and recognize their role in preserving the environment.
Read more: Chitral losing hope on billion tree drive
Many international organizations and countries with coastal lines have adopted the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) approach which aims to engage the social and economic stakeholders to design and implement sustainable growth strategies in the coastal regions.
Other than supporting eco-friendly development in coastal areas, this approach can also help in promoting secure and sustainable livelihoods for local communities and raise awareness about environmental issues.
Read more: Promoting Sustainable Construction Sector
Mangrove forests crucial for coastal tourism in Pakistan
Along with carefully planning future development projects, there is an urgent need to improve the waste management and sewage infrastructure of Karachi to limit coastal pollution. The hospitality industry of the city should also play its part by adopting environmentally friendly practices.
Given the population and industrial dynamics of the city, any strategy to promote sustainable coastal tourism will not achieve the desired results if the situation of Karachi is not urgently addressed.
Similarly, mangrove forests require special attention as they serve critical economic and environmental purposes. In recent years, rising population and pollution along with a reduction in freshwater from the Indus river has brought the mangroves ecosystem under stress. This would compromise their capability of preventing coastal erosion and providing livelihood to local communities.
Mangrove forests cover an area of 600,000 hectares in Sindh which offers an opportunity to promote sustainable tourism activities. Mangrove tourism has gained interest in recent years across the world due to the unique boating, fishing, birdwatching, and wildlife experience it offers to visitors.
It is considered to be a multi-billion dollar industry and is expected to grow in the coming years. Sustainable tourist activities can generate alternate economic opportunities for locals which will reduce the exploitation of forests.
Pakistan’s young population is fond of adventure tourism which can also be facilitated through developing facilities in the coastal areas. To preserve the coastal environment, activities such as swimming, snorkeling, and sailing should be promoted instead of those which require fuel combustion. Such activities are also very attractive for foreign tourists who are no longer shying away from visiting Pakistan.
If undertaken seriously, sustainable coastal tourism will help Pakistan in diversifying its economy and create long-lasting social and environmental benefits.
Ali Haider Saleem has worked with the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) and National Defense University (NDU). His research interests lie in sustainable development, regional integration, and security cooperation. He has studied public policy at Queen Mary University of London and economics at NUST, Islamabad. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.