It is time national and local agencies make contingency plans to protect marine life as well as humans.
Climate change is a global issue, and its adverse effects are emerging in most countries worldwide. Many countries are taking steps to address these serious issues by introducing new climate-sensitive policies or through legislative changes. In contrast, poorer countries have not been able to do the same. Global warming and the rising sea surface temperature are having devastating effects on the local economy and the livelihood of the coastal communities in Balochistan. Climate change and its effects are not only changing sea surface temperature and fish population, but also forcing coastal communities to move elsewhere for economic opportunities. In addition to global and local pressures, lack of solid and liquid waste management practices in Balochistan are creating more challenges for coastal communities whose livelihood depends on fishing. The increased plastic pollution in the ocean is set to rise by 2050 and experts say that there will be more plastic bags in the ocean than the number of fish. The coastal districts between Lasbela and Gwadar are also feeling the burden of increased pollution. The changing sea surface temperature, with the added pressure from pollution, has affected the number of fish a local fisherman can find for living. Overpopulation and the practice of dumping industrial as well as human wastes in the ocean have changed the ecological system in the ocean. If such practices continue, experts say, the rising sea levels pose a threat to the coastal areas of Makran in Balochistan.
Unfamiliar with the changing weather, a helpless fisherman from Pasni was standing with his fishing boat at the ‘hor’ (harbour). He asked when the jetty at Pasni hor would be restored so that fishermen like him could safely anchor their boats. Lack of anchorage sites have left their boats open to storm in the sea. Most fishermen at the Pasni hor are not aware that coastal areas of Balochistan are and will be affected by the climate changes. I spoke to many local fishermen about the changing climatic conditions in the region. Most of them were unaware of climate change and its effects. Some locals attributed the changing climate to the works of nature but did not say much on the subject.
Pakistan ranks as one of the first five countries to be affected most by climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2020. The country was at number eight on this list in 2019. The sensitive coastal areas of Balochistan from Jiwani to Gaddani are at most risk from climate change effects.
Most people living in the coastal regions of Balochistan have their source of income tied to the 780 kilometres of the coastline along Pakistan’s deep sea international economic boundary. Experts say that we need to take climate change as a serious issue now. Otherwise, it will consume the entire human race and make the world uninhabitable for humans or animals.
Water pollution’s impact on marine climate
The natural environment of the coastal region of Balochistan is adversely affected when fish companies release toxic waste materials into the sea. In more developed countries, the poisonous waste materials and industrial waste are treated and/or reused to protect the natural environment. But in underdeveloped countries such as Pakistan, toxic waste material is dumped into the sea without treatment, risking marine life to extinction.
According to Onais Rahim, a student of Environmental Sciences at the Lasbela University of Agriculture, Water and Marine Sciences in Uthal, the toxic waste that is dumped into the sea is negatively impacting coastal areas of Makran in Balochistan; the micro-animals living on the banks are also being affected and facing the risk of extinction. These micro-animals are responsible for the proper functioning and stability of the oceanic ecosystem. According to Rahim, although the carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere is becoming a significant cause of air pollution, the expenditures relating to green gases at Makran are negligible compared to other areas.
Abdul Rahim Baloch, an environmentalist from Gwadar and assistant director, environment, at Gwadar Development Authority (GDA) says that the coastal areas of Balochistan are prone to many dangers like coastal erosion, famine and pollution. He says that the use of plastic products and nets are causing severe damage to aquatic life; overfishing and the use of illegal nets and illegal fishing are causing extensive damage too.
Sadiqa Khan, a journalist covering science, states that the rising sea temperatures are causing coral reefs bleaching and they face risk of extinction. Coral reefs serve as a safe haven for fish and other marine creatures as they come to lay eggs in them.
Unplanned development and its consequences
Experts say that there has not been any effective planning undertaken to protect the natural environment from the current development in Gwadar. The economic development in Balochistan is not weighted against the long-term impact and consequences of environmental degradation on the local coastal communities and the natural environment. Local fishing industry, the vital source of income for the coastal communities, is under enormous pressure from Gwadar’s unsustainable development and short-lived economic opportunities. This is coupled with the more global issues such as climate change and rising sea levels, which are further undermining the livelihood of coastal communities in Balochistan.
Excessive light, noise emission, overpopulation and lack of waste management in the region are having dire consequences on the marine life, water quality and its coastal communities. For example, the turtles that used to come to the shore to lay eggs are now heading back to the sea without laying any eggs. Effects on the ocean food chain are observed by the local fishing communities when their nets draw a blank. There is no evidence that the development around Gwadar has gone through a proper environmental impact assessment (EIA) or approval process. The Environmental Protection Act, 2012 (Balochistan) strictly prohibits commencement of construction, development or operation unless an initial EIA is undertaken with public participation. No such EIA or approvals were undertaken by the GDA with the local coastal communities in Gwadar.
Challenge of restoring natural environment
The restoration of the natural environment in the coastal areas of Balochistan is a big challenge. The challenges include maintenance of marine life diversity and the protection from climatic challenges and risk of extinction. The theme of World Environment Day in 2021 was "Ecosystem Restoration" and Pakistan was the global host for the day. According to the United Nations, "The celebration of this day provides us with an opportunity to broaden the basis for an enlightened opinion and responsible conducted by individuals, enterprises, and communities in preserving and enhancing the environment."
This World Environment Day had kick off the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), a global mission to revive billions of hectares, from forests to farmlands, from the top of mountain to the depth of the sea.
Therefore, it is imperative to pay special attention to the coastal areas of Balochistan and the environment around it so that safety can be assured.
At present, the greatest challenges faced by Balochistan and its people are environmental degradation, unsustainable coastal economic growth and lack of government actions. This, combined with global warming, food and water security and crippling fish numbers, leaves very little hope for the future unless urgent measures are undertaken by government and people. To restore natural environment, the government must take some drastic measures to protect our priceless marine ecosystems and coastal communities.
Rising sea temperatures and coastal erosion
Due to changing climate conditions, the coastal cities of Balochistan, including Pasni, Gaddani and Gwadar are facing coastal erosion. Shoaib Kiani, assistant professor in Karachi University's Institute of Marine Sciences, states that sea levels rise due to increasing water temperatures. He says the population around this seashore may face the danger of homelessness in a few years because an increasing sea level is a recipe for quick coastal erosion.
According to experts, the sea levels are increasing by 5 millimetres, while sea temperature is rising by about 0.6 to 1 degree Celsius every year. According to Kiani, aquatic creatures face adverse effects due to the increasing temperature of the sea, which results in many sea creatures migrating towards colder waters or even dying out. Referring to his five-year long research project, Fisheries Resources Appraisal in Pakistan 2008-2013 (FRAP), Kiani says that around 40-70 per cent of the fish in the sea have gone extinct. This percentage is increasing by the day due to climate change, putting the Balochistan Sea in more trouble.
Sadiqa Khan, on the other hand, states that the rising sea temperature is causing coral reefs to face risk of extinction. Coral reefs serve as a safe haven for fish and other aquatic creatures as they come to lay eggs in them.
Preventing erosion and disasters with mangroves
According to Kiani, mangrove forests help to reduce the intensity of cyclones, hurricanes or tsunami. He says that historically Balochistan used to get one cyclone a year but now changing weather conditions have increased the frequency and intensity of the cyclones.
Research conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) along the coastal areas of Balochistan such as Miani Hor, Sonmani, Kalmat Hor and Gwadar have found that mangrove forests cover around 4,058 hectares of the coastline. These forests help stop natural disasters and coastal erosion.
Gwadar’s deputy conservator of forest Yar Mohammad Dashti says that to help prevent coastal erosion, the forest department planted 183,000 mangrove trees around different coastal areas of Gwadar and also sowed 300,000 seeds in 2020. The mangrove forest around Pasni has now a nursery for many fish species, he says.
Due to its location, Balochistan is also prone to earthquakes and tsunamis and with the threat of climate impact, coastal development and population growth, the region is not prepared for a major disaster. For example, Pasni was hit by a tsunami on 12 October 1945. Back then, it was a small town having fewer residents and so the death toll was less. Now, it has become a relatively big coastal city and a natural disaster could inflict much larger devastation and fatalities on it.
The government as well as local coastal communities must invest their effort in addressing climatic effects and building resilient infrastructure. Investing in carbon farming such as planting mangroves can help absorb greenhouse gases as well protect coastal communities from storms and cyclones. It will also provide a safe heaven for fish and other marine life, and help rebuild the ecosystem and maintain water temperature.
Changes in rain pattern and drought
Balochistan often experiences prolonged draughts. Sadiqa Khan says that the primary cause behind this phenomenon can be related to climate change and its effect on global weather pattern. The changes in the rain pattern are affecting the coastal agriculture, industry and threatening food security and groundwater recharge. When the rain is in short supply, the farmers and the local people turn to groundwater, oblivious of the fact that it is heavily contaminated with the human and industrial waste. It is well known that the areas with poor waste management and the use of groundwater are directly linked to diseases such as hepatitis.
The Asian Devolvement Bank has cited that water is scarce and insufficient for the present needs. As a lot of water is being exploited through the water tables, it could get worse shortly. Furthermore, the report says that the barren lands of the country have experienced a decrease of 10 per cent to 15 per cent in rainfall since 1960. Abdul Rahim Baloch says that the local community relies on rainfall for the purposes of drinking water and cultivation. However, according to him, the coastal areas of Makran have experienced extreme drought in the past few years. This has affected the local population, which depends entirely on agriculture and cattle farming for livelihood. He says there are limited reserves of underground water that are used sparingly.
According to Shoaib Kiyani, the weather conditions affecting the coastal areas of Balochistan have gone through drastic changes. Lasbela experiences rainfall in different season, whereas Makran receives rainfall during the winter, which often turns into torrential rains. Change in rain patterns during the winter increases the change of drought. According to marine experts, Lasbela has been exploiting water below the ground for agriculture purposes on a large scale for a long time. This is causing the water tables to drop further below. If it continues, water could become scarce in these areas. Experts say that most of the cattle farming in Balochistan are dependent upon natural pastures. Due to change in the pattern of rainfall and drought, these natural pastures are becoming limited, directly affecting their livestock and the people dependent on them for livelihood.
Steps needed to prevent climate change
Environmentalist Humera Rind says that to avoid the potential adverse effect of climate change, new technology must be introduced in a manner that is conducive to the environment-friendly policy. Using one-time used plastic bags and products should be banned completely and eco-friendly, disposable bags and products should be introduced in their place. Kayani suggests that all government departments and agencies should create a national plan of action to avoid the adverse effects of climate change that are to follow.
The government should take initiatives for banning plastic made products, the experts say, because such products last for 400 to 450 years or even longer. Over the years, plastic breaks down into smaller particles called micro-plastic and these micro-plastics get into our food chain and cause the death of marine life and plants as well as dire health risks to humans.
The beauty of the beaches of Balochistan can be enhanced by adopting clean energy, waste management, community education and implementing law and enforcement by the local and national agencies. The role of the local government is vital in devising a contingency plan to protect and conserve the aquatic life in the coastal areas of Balochistan.