Rawalpindi - Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi (PMAS-AAUR) in collaboration with Sustainable Land Management Programme (SLMP) organised a seminar on ‘Combating Desertification in Pakistan’ and an awareness walk as well as tree planting to mark the World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD), here on Thursday.

The WDCD is observed every year on 17 June to promote public awareness of international efforts to combat desertification. This year, due to Ramazan, celebrations are held in July in Pakistan.

Country Director, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pakistan, Ignacio Artaza was the chief guest while Prof Dr Rai Niaz Ahmad Vice Chancellor PMAS-AAUR, National Programme Director (SLMP-II), Ishrat Ali, Hamid Marwat, National Programme Coordinator (SLMP-II), Prof Dr Maqsood Anwar, Dean Faculty of Forestry, Range Management and Wildlife, Prof Dr Sarwat N Mirza, Chairman Department of Forestry & Range Management of PMAS-AAUR, Deans, Directors, faculty members and large numbers of students were also present on the occasion.

Addressing the audience at the seminar , Country Director United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pakistan, Ignacio Artaza emphasized to mainstream efforts for sustainable land management to combat desertification. He said, “Desertification is a global phenomenon, affecting the livelihoods of 900 million people across the five continents and representing a third of worldwide threats to biodiversity. It requires global attention and local action.”

Artaza acknowledged efforts by the Ministry of Climate Change and appreciated Sustainable Land Management Programme (SLMP) for on-the-ground efforts to combat desertification in 14 districts in all four provinces of the country. He said, “UNDP is playing a meaningful role through its programmes and partnerships in Pakistan.

“Environment and Climate Change Unit of the UNDP has been making pragmatic efforts to address the overall effects of climate change in Pakistan and specifically desertification through the SLM Programme,” Artaza said.  He, particularly, appreciated engaging local communities in decision-making.

Prof Dr Rai Niaz Ahmad, Vice Chancellor PMAS AAUR, highlighted the role university was playing for better climate in the country. He emphasized that such collaborative activities must be strengthened and taken forward for fighting desertification in Pakistan. He also appreciated UNDP Pakistan and Ministry of Climate Change for taking the lead in sustainable land management through their joint programme, SLMP. Prof Dr Rai Niaz Ahmad said that desertification and land degradation is a key challenge for the socio-economic development of Pakistan and emphasized to promote practices such as Hydroponics, Rainwater Harvesting to address the issues of food insecurity and water scarcity.

“Rainwater harvesting is the best source to meet the agriculture needs also improves the quality and quantity of produce”, he added.

National Programme Director (SLMP-II), Ishrat Ali informed the audience that Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC) was aware of the threats posed by desertification, land degradation and drought to environmental sustainability and appreciates value of policy, projects and programme’s interventions in combating desertification, land degradation and drought.

He said, “SLMP is working on developing Integrated Sustainable Land Management Policies, Land Use Plans at district and village levels, and on ground interventions that aim for effective environmental management for combating desertification, land degradation and drought in Pakistan.”

Earlier, Hamid Marwat, National Programme Coordinator (SLMP-II) briefed the audience about World Desertification Day and about SLMP approaches and interventions for better land management in Pakistan.  

He said, “The implementation of the programme will bring considerable financial benefits for the poor dryland communities through the sustainable management of their land resources.”

Prof Dr Sarwat N Mirza, Chairman Department of Forestry & Range Management, PMAS Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi, discussed desertification in detail and highlighted threats, challenges and opportunities in Pakistan’s context.

Prof Dr Maqsood Anwar, Dean Faculty of Forestry, Range Management and Wildlife thanked the audience and other participants of the seminar for according importance to the grave issue of desertification and hoped that collaboration between academic and research institutions with specialized institutions like AAUR, UNDP, Ministry of Climate Change and SLMP will go a long way in desertification in the country.

Pakistan is signatory to United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). In order to meet the objectives of the convention, Government of Pakistan, with support from United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Global Environment Facility (GEF) is implementing second phase of the Sustainable Land Management Program (SLMP-II) in fourteen dry land districts of all four provinces.

SLMP is striving to achieve the long-term goal of combating land degradation and desertification in Pakistan to promote sustainable management of natural resources, restore degraded ecosystems, reduce poverty, and increase resilience to climate change.

The program has recently made efforts for aligning Pakistan‘s National Action Plan to Combat Desertification (NAP) with 10-year strategy of the UNCCD Implementation of the NAP for mainstreaming SLM principles in national, provincial and local policies and planning processes. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the only legally binding international agreement on land issues.