Federal Minister for Climate Change Senator Sherry Rehman on Thursday announced that parliament has approved the country’s biggest climate initiative — Living Indus — aimed at protecting the cradle of civilisations under serious threat due to environmental degradation and anthropogenic activities. Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Rehman unveiled the salient features of the project which was conceived after thorough consultations with academia, experts, stakeholders, and provincial governments.

She said the Indus River was the “mother of the nation” as it watered the entire agriculture system and humanity living around it from the north to the south. “We will have to ensure development in harmony with nature, not against nature,” Rehman stressed. “The Living Indus Initiative will cost $11-17 billion. We will try to manage it through the fiscal facilities available,” Rehman revealed, adding that government will launch it at COP 27 (2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference) as well.“

The United Nations, Rehman continued, had assisted the Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC) to develop a detailed report on River Indus to devise a well-thought strategy to initiate its conservation and restoration as a living river. The minister underlined that the nature, topography, and biodiversity of the Indus River change with every area it passes by.

“The marine species are under threat whereas the most at risk are the humans living across the mighty river. The River Indus exploded due to massive floods in 2010 and in recent torrential rains. We will have to find ways to revive natural routes of Indus River.” While elaborating on the Living Indus Initiative, the minister informed that 25 initial interventions that were the priority areas would be focussed. Moreover, access to adaptation would be the centre of the government’s defence strategy and climate change mitigation planning, she added.

“As we have to ensure climate resilient development and growth, the access to adaptation will be our main focus.” Rehman added that her ministry would also lead interventions on loss and damage, and climate financing at global forums. The minister expressed her pride in launching the Living Indus Initiative.

While elaborating the on key 25 interventions, Rehman said that the project would operate in the length and breadth of the country whereas the private sector would be required to chip in the finances as there was a lack of resources. All our funds have been diverted to humanitarian funds to rehabilitate flood victims. Climate adaptation and resilience funds have also been moved in this effort.”

The 25 priority interventions, she explained, were nature-based resilience agriculture, salinity control in lower Indus, Indus delta protection, Indus cleanup from industrial effluent, green infrastructure, and ground recharge, groundwater governance, 100,000 community bonds, living Indus knowledge platform, Indus trust fund, climate nature performance bonds, social entrepreneurship for green Indus, zero plastic waste cities along the Indus, an urban forest along Indus, Indus protection act, protection of Indus beds, build back biodiversity in Indus basin, community-based tourism in Sindh, Indus heritage sites, promoting permaculture and others. She said this initiative belonged to every government, including the provincial governments as these projects would be piloted in the provinces.

Pakistan paid a huge cost in the agriculture sector due to heatwaves, she said, adding, “This the matter of our survival. The shrinking size of Palla fish and other species is clear evidence of environmental degradation and habitat loss in the polluted Indus River.” Rehman mentioned that all provinces were dumping industrial effluent which needed to be addressed through stakeholder engagement.

“We will support provinces through FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) and MoCC to ensure groundwater governance. Moreover, this initiative is a living menu and anyone can intervene as a citizen and the provinces will support in protecting Indus.”

The living database under the initiative would provide standardised data and the ministry would take all necessary steps in this regard, Rehman said. “We will encourage plastic pollution control through public and community participation, not penalisation. Pakistan has been the home to the hottest cities this year and exceeded 53 degrees Celsius temperature.”

She underlined that the Indus River was the world’s second most polluted river. Replying to queries, the minister said it was the biggest adaptation project that should be promoted for the benefit of the country. “There was criminal negligence of the previous regime on Climate Adaptation Plan as many initiatives ended up on paper during the Imran [Khan] regime.” By the end of this year, she said the MoCC would ensure legislation that conventionally used to take two years.