IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) and Thar Foundation formalized a joint collaboration to undertake biodiversity conservation in Thar at a ceremony today.

The first initiative under this partnership aims to protect endangered vulture species in the region through both in-situ and ex-situ methods of conservation over a period of three years. The project entails establishment of a Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre (VCBC) as well as training to Thari communities on preserving and protecting vultures in their natural habitat. External factors which have contributed to the steep decline in the vulture population, such as the administration of harmful drugs like Diclofenac to livestock, will also be addressed.

The ceremony was attended by the Ministry of Climate Change, officials from the Sindh Forest and Wildlife Department, private sector representatives, conservation experts, academicians, as well as civil society.

Speaking as Chief Guest on the occasion, Mr. Shahrukh Nusrat, Federal Secretary, Ministry of Climate Change, while commending SECMC’s commitment to acting as a socially and environmentally responsible corporation, expounded on the benefits vultures bring to the ecosystems where they thrive, and assured the participants that the initiative had the full support of the Ministry. He also added that the Government of Pakistan has established a National Vulture Recovery Committee to enhance cooperation at the national and regional level to provide safe habitats for vultures.

Mr. Naseer Memon, General Manager CSR, SECMC explained that while the company was devoted to addressing the energy needs of the country, it was equally mindful of its impacts on the environment and biodiversity, and recognized the importance of striking the right balance between development and conservation. He then gave a brief overview of SECMC’s other efforts, through the Thar Foundation, to make Islamkot (where it operates), SDG compliant within the next 5 years, making it a model for the rest of the country to follow. The Foundation has partnered with The Citizens Foundation, for instance, to add 24 new schools to the area, giving over 5,000 students access to a quality education. In the health sector, the Foundation has opened the Marvi Mother and Child Clinic, along with a network of mobile clinics to provide primary healthcare. It is also partnering with the Indus Hospital to open a 120-bed hospital in Islamkot. Mr. Memon concluded that the environment was increasingly a priority for SECMC and that a number of plantation initiatives were already underway around the SECMC facility in Thar.

In his address Senator (Rtd) Mr. Javed Jabbar, Founding President of Baanhn Beli – which will be a partner in the project, said that human intervention had encroached on the habitats of the animals, birds and other species and

He also appreciated the generous support being given by SECMC as well as the presence of representatives from Tharparkar where this unique bird is found which reflects their serious interest in sharing the responsibility to support the restoration of the endangered vulture species. Mr. Jabbar underscored the need for collaborative efforts to protect the habitats saying it was not possible for us

Mr. Jabbar also commended the fact that Mr. Shahrukh Nusrat was present, representing the federal government, and congratulated him on Mr. Malik Amin Aslam’s (Advisor to the Prime Minister on Climate Change) recent success at COP 24 of the UNFCCC in Poland – thanks to the efforts of his delegation, Pakistan has been elected as the Vice President and the Rapporteur of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC.

Mr. Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, Country Representative IUCN Pakistan gave a brief overview of the vulture conservation project. Furthermore, he applauded SECMC’s efforts to preserve their environment, adding that the company’s decision to partner with IUCN for environmental conservation, and with other organisations like Indus Hospital in the health sector, contributed to a number of SDGs, especially SDG 17, which encouraged strong partnerships across the public and private sectors and civil society to further the cause of sustainable development. This commitment to strong partnerships is further exemplified in the fact that IUCN and SECMC will also be taking Baanhn Beli, a Thar-based NGO, onboard to contribute to several of the project’s community-related components.

Mr. Cheema concluded his closing remarks with a vote of thanks to the participants for their presence.