Report on the Ramsar Advisory Mission to Pakistan undertaken in response to the disastrous floods in 2010

Report on the Ramsar Advisory Mission to Pakistan undertaken in response to the disastrous floods in 2010

5 June 2013

The report on the Ramsar Advisory Mission (RAM) to Pakistan in November 2012 has been released and is now available here [PDF].

The RAM was undertaken in response to the disastrous floods in 2010 that Pakistan faced and the aims were to visit the wetlands along the Indus River floodplains to a), devise a workable and cost effective strategy for wise-use of the floods b), to make recommendations for alteration in the prevailing flood control strategy so as to obtain maximum benefit from the flood water and c), identify high priority wetlands/Ramsar Sites for restoration by using the floods as a tool for restoration.

RAM team in discussion

The visit highlighted the fact that the Indus River is truly the lifeblood for Pakistan, flowing through the country to provide water and nutrients for agriculture, as well as food, energy and livelihood for people across the country, from the high mountains to the Arabian Sea. However, there is a lack of an integrated basin approach to the management of the river to maintain the many services and benefits that the river provides for people and the environment, including it capacity for flood retention.

Irrigation channel

The overall recommendations from the RAM included the following:

  • A broad-based coordinating authority should be established for the sustainable management of the Indus River Basin in Pakistan and its resources, e.g. water, fisheries, biodiversity, as well as for pollution control and flood management;
  • The coordinating body should be tasked with drafting and regularly updating an ‘Integrated Indus River Basin Plan’ to coordinate up-stream land-uses with the needs of down-stream users, which can also maintain the social, economic , environmental and flood control benefits that the river provides through maintaining environmental flows;
  • The government should move away from the paradigm of solely using a hard-engineering approach to controlling flood and instead, take an integrated approach and consider including soft-engineering approaches. This would include managing floodplains and using, or restoring lakes and ponds for flood water storage, and the replanting of riverine forests to slow the speed of the flood waters. There is a need to take the traditional approach of looking at the annual floods as blessings and to maximise the benefits we can obtain from them.
Lal Suhanra wetland

  • A number of sites along the Indus River were identified as being suitable for further investigation for conducting pilot projects on the restoration and management of floodplains for flood management as well as for the improving the livelihood of the local communities. These sites include the ponds by Taunsa Barrage Ramsar Site, as well as sites in the Indus Dolphin Ramsar Site and at Lal Suhanra National Park;
  • The management plans that are being developed for the Ramsar Sites along the Indus River floodplain, e.g. Taunsa Barrage, should also discuss and provide recommendations on the management of the site for flood management;
  • Activities under the pilot project would include the removal of illegal structures and encroachments into the sites which otherwise would obstruct the flow of water and impact on the capacity of the site to hold flood water;
  • To control encroachment of the flood plains by illegal settlements and illegal structures in general, the staff of the Irrigation Department should be empowered and strengthened by facilitating them to enforce the Canal and Drainage Act (1873);
  • The trial of alternative livelihood methods which are adapted to the annual floods for the benefit of the local communities; restoration and management of ponds and lakes for flood water storage; develop opportunities for biodiversity conservation (e.g. restoration of riverine forests and provisions of habitat for waterbirds) as well as for education and public awareness should be undertaken.
Farming in the floodplain by the Indus River

Report and photos by Lew Young, Senior Regional Advisor for Asia-Oceania