Pakistan’s Living Indus: Restoring Hope

The Indus Valley Civilization, thriving from 3300 to 1300 BCE in what is now Pakistan, stands as a testament to the significance of the Indus River in shaping the region’s history. Today, the river continues to play a pivotal role in Pakistan’s agricultural, economic, and demographic landscapes. Irrigating over 80% of the country’s cultivable lands, the Indus River remains the lifeblood of Pakistan, impacting its societal and economic fabric in profound ways.

Historically, the Indus River was central to the development of the Indus Valley Civilization. Cities like Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, situated along the river, showcased advanced city planning, intricate drainage systems, and distinctive artifacts. The river served as a reliable water source for irrigation, facilitating trade, transportation, and contributing to economic prosperity. However, the decline of this ancient civilization around 1300 BCE remains a subject of debate among historians.

In the contemporary context, the Indus River remains a vital force, supporting more than 90% of Pakistan’s population. Its waters irrigate the majority of the country’s cultivable lands, fostering the growth of essential crops and sustaining the livelihoods of millions. Economically, the Indus system holds unparalleled significance, contributing to over three-quarters of Pakistan’s economy, both directly and indirectly. The agricultural sector, driven by the river’s waters, impacts food production, employment, and rural economies. Moreover, the Indus River serves as a crucial water source for various industries, further solidifying its role in the country’s economic prosperity.

Beyond its economic contributions, the Indus River profoundly influences Pakistan’s urban landscape. With nine out of the ten largest cities situated within its 50-kilometer vicinity, including metropolises like Karachi and Lahore, the river system shapes settlement patterns, infrastructure development, and overall urbanization. This concentration of major population centers along the Indus underscores its pivotal role in both rural and urban life, highlighting its multifaceted importance to Pakistan’s societal and economic well-being.

However, the Indus River faces formidable challenges that threaten its sustainability. Escalating water scarcity, pollution from industrial and agricultural runoff, and the disruptive impact of dams altering its natural flow are pressing threats. Climate change exacerbates these issues, altering precipitation patterns and intensifying extreme events. Deforestation, habitat loss, and over-extraction of groundwater further contribute to biodiversity decline and ecosystem degradation.

To address these challenges, Pakistan launched the Living Indus Initiative, a groundbreaking climate initiative aimed at protecting this vital ecosystem from environmental degradation and anthropogenic activities. Approved by the parliament and showcased at COP27 in Egypt, the initiative represents a bold step toward ensuring the sustainability of the Indus River. With a budget ranging from $11-17 billion, the Living Indus Initiative encompasses 25 priority interventions, focusing on adaptation and climate-resilient growth.

In a momentous achievement, the Living Indus Initiative has been selected as the World Restoration Flagship of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Among more than 150 applications, the initiative stood out, garnering support from over 70 governments worldwide. This recognition, announced by Ms. Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, applauds the initiative’s dedication to restoring millions of hectares in the Indus River basin.

Developed collaboratively by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environmental Coordination, provincial authorities, and the UN system, the Living Indus Initiative represents a holistic approach to address the ecological challenges faced by the fragile basin. With 25 measures emphasizing nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based adaptation strategies, the initiative aims to uplift the environmental and health conditions of the Indus Basin.

Ms. Inger Andersen praised the Living Indus Initiative as one of the world’s most promising, ambitious, and inspiring examples of large-scale restoration. The upcoming public announcement of the World Restoration Flagships in February 2024 during the sixth United Nations Environment Assembly will mark a global celebration of this recognition, reaching millions of people.

This acknowledgment stands as a testament to Pakistan’s commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainable development on the global stage, showcasing the nation’s dedication to safeguarding the Indus River and ensuring a sustainable future for generations to come. The Living Indus Initiative not only represents a crucial step towards mitigating the challenges faced by the Indus River but also sets an example for international collaboration in addressing climate-induced threats to vital ecosystems.

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