Some twenty years after Pakistan’s independence, an exploration sponsored by WWF—UK revealed that wildlife and wetlands resources in Pakistan were severely threatened and, in most areas, declining in condition. The expedition report prepared by Mountfort (1967) recommended that a range of wetland sites be declared Protected Areas. Other early efforts included extensive surveys made by Savage (1967- 1970) and Koning (1970, 1976, 1987 and 1989).
Koning’s field work was supported by the International Wetlands Research Bureau (IWRB) and he made the first ever effort to train provincial conservation staff in waterfowl identification. Pakistan ratified the Ramsar Convention in 1975 and, simultaneously, nine wetland sites were somewhat hastily recognised by the Ramsar Bureau as being of international importance. Early inventory work tended to be confined to readily accessible wetland sites, In 1980, IUCN compiled A Directory of Wetlands of International Importance in the Western Palaearctic. This was followed by the International Council for Bird Preservation’s preliminary Inventory of Wetlands in East Asia. The Directory of Asian Wetlands prepared by Scott (1989) listed 52 sites in Pakistan, based on the work of the NCCW and other agencies. Scott and Poole (1989) subsequently compiled an overview of important wetlands in Asia that featured some of the resources in Pakistan. In 1987 Wetlands International (WI) initiated a mid winter waterfowl census in the region and government staff from a range of institutions have participated in this survey series annually since that time. The Pakistan National Conservation Strategy (1992) included the protection of watersheds and water bodies as two of fourteen major programme areas for priority implementation. A report based on joint surveys by the NCCW and Ramsar Bureau in 1990 identified priorities for action including surveys, conservation measures, awareness raising, management and applied research. The report recommended rationalising the existing list of Ramsar sites. As a consequence, several were amalgamated into a complex, three existing sites were withdrawn from the list and two others added, bringing the total number of Ramsar sites in March 1996, to eight.
By 2003, the national and site level investment in wetlands was generally inadequate to meet the challenge of conserving globally important biodiversity. At the national level, the key significant drawback was the absence of an effective enabling environment that could encourage and sustain initiatives for biodiversity conservation. Key barriers to creating an enabling environment remained:
-the lack of effective and integrated policies;
-the absence of decision-making tools and reliable information to support effective wetlands conservation planning; -technical deficiencies related to skills and equipment; and
-the lack of general public awareness or political pressure that would favour wetlands conservation.
Few comprehensive decision support systems or management tools were available for regional resource planning. The scope of the GIS facilities in the PFI and Forest Management Centre in Peshawar, was limited to forestry only and not organised to accept data on other forms of biodiversity or socio-economic conditions in wetlands and their buffer zones. Technical capacity in almost every aspect of wetlands management tended to be inadequate due to the lack of resources for scientific and specialised wetlands management training, appropriate equipment and exposure to international approaches to wetlands management. While Pakistan had produced a Wetlands Action Plan in 2000, the lack of a comprehensive Wetlands Management Strategy hindered policy formation, coordination and management of wetlands at a national scale. Additionally, options for financial sustainability had not been fully explored to enable the proliferation of long-term initiatives in biodiversity conservation. As a result, such initiatives tended to be donor-driven and short-lived.
At the site level, several of the above-mentioned inadequacies were also evident. Although all four of the designated Demonstration Complexes fell within the jurisdiction of the provincial forestry and wildlife management agencies, actual activity was limited to partial enforcement of resource use regulations. Some community-based biodiversity management initiatives had been supported elsewhere by the appropriate agencies in NWFP and Sindh. These approaches had, however, not been applied in the four selected wetland sites. Biodiversity monitoring in these sites had also been inconsistent although the ZSD and WWF-P had undertaken some initiatives, particularly during the PDF (B) phase of the Project. Some short-term conservation initiatives had been implemented in recent years in Makran Coastal Wetlands Complex (MCWC), Central Indus Wetlands Complex (CIWC), and Salt Range Wetlands Complex (SRWC) with the active involvement of WWF-P. Significant activities comprised of a programme for the rescue of lndus Dolphins (Platanista minor) stranded in irrigation canals during the dry season in CIWC and support for eco-tourism initiatives on the Indus River. In MCWC, initiatives had included the conservation of endangered Olive Ridley Turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) and Green Turtles (Chelonfa mydas) and the rehabilitation of mangroves near Jiwani. Monitoring of waterfowl, Punjab Urial (Ovis vignei punjabiensis) and Chinkara or Indian Gazelle (Gazella bennettii) had been the key focus of conservation activities in SRWC, although some limited community-based ventures, mainly related to environmental awareness, had also been implemented.
If the 2003 scenario were to continue, it is projected that wetlands conservation in Pakistan would continue to encompass a series of essentially unrelated, short-term initiatives driven by donor support. In the absence of the measures proposed under the Pakistan Wetlands Programme, the existing national and site level conservation efforts are likely to have little sustainable impact on the globally important wetlands and their associated biodiversity in Pakistan.