Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, has received two esteemed World Heritage awards, signifying a momentous achievement for the country. The awards were granted to the Chitral Bashkar Garamchashma Biosphere Reserve and Gullies Biosphere Reserve.

The International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme, comprising 34 UNESCO Member States, made the decision to bestow these honors.

Among the 193 member nations, only nine countries have received two such prestigious awards, and Pakistan, specifically its Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, has been granted this distinction for the Chitral region and Gullies Biosphere Reserves.

The other countries that have achieved this recognition are Colombia, Central Africa, Cameroon, Germany, Indonesia, Kenya, Mongolia, Peru, and Tanzania. The World Network now encompasses 748 sites in 134 countries, including 23 transboundary sites.

The MAB Programme serves as an intergovernmental scientific initiative that aims to establish a scientific foundation for enhancing the relationship between humanity and its environment. It combines natural and social sciences to improve human livelihoods, safeguard natural and managed ecosystems, and promote economically sustainable approaches that are socially and culturally appropriate. The World Network of Biosphere Reserves, a key component of the MAB Programme, is a vibrant and interactive network of exceptional sites that foster a harmonious coexistence between people and nature, enabling sustainable development through participatory dialogue, knowledge sharing, poverty reduction, and enhancements to human well-being. It also emphasizes the preservation of cultural values and society’s capacity to adapt to change. Each biosphere reserve within the network promotes innovative local solutions to conserve biodiversity, preserve ecosystems, address climate change, and improve people’s livelihoods. This is achieved through initiatives like the development of agro-ecology, renewable energy sources, and green industries, which align with the targets, set by the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. These targets include designating 30% of the Earth’s land surface as protected areas and restoring 30% of the planet’s degraded ecosystems by 2030.

The Chitral Bashkar Garamchashma Biosphere Reserve is located in the Chitral District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, bordering Afghanistan to the north and west. This reserve boasts breathtaking landscapes, encompassing 543 glaciers and 56 mountain ranges that reach altitudes of up to 7,000 meters in Tarich Valley and even higher above sea level, including hundreds above 6,000 meters. The site supports populations of numerous near-threatened or vulnerable species, such as the Kashmir Markhor, Siberian Ibex, Ladakh Urial, and Snow Leopard. Additionally, the biosphere reserve is home to a population of over 400,000 people and showcases the unique Chitral culture, which has evolved over millennia and encompasses more than a dozen distinct ethnic groups and numerous languages, including endangered Indo-Aryan languages like Kalash and Kalashamum. The natural beauty and cultural diversity of the biosphere reserve make it an increasingly popular destination for ecotourism, offering visitors an extraordinary experience.

The Awards expected benefits to local people and the natural ecosystem.

The UNESCO biosphere reserves in Pakistan, particularly the Chitral Bashkar Garamchashma Biosphere Reserve and Gullies Biosphere Reserve can bring several cost benefits to Pakistan in general and to the specific sites, particularly in the promotion of tourism. Here are some of the potential benefits:

International Recognition: Being approved by UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program provides international recognition to these sites. It highlights their ecological significance, biodiversity, and sustainable practices, which can attract global attention and interest.

Tourism Promotion: The UNESCO designation can significantly boost tourism in the region. These biosphere reserves offer unique landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and rich cultural heritage, attracting nature enthusiasts, researchers, and adventure seekers. Increased tourism leads to economic growth, job creation, and improved livelihoods for local communities.

Conservation and Sustainable Development: UNESCO biosphere reserves promote the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. They encourage local communities and stakeholders to adopt environmentally friendly practices, such as sustainable agriculture, eco-tourism, and biodiversity conservation. These initiatives can lead to improved environmental protection, enhanced ecosystem resilience, and sustainable development.

Research and Education: Biosphere reserves provide opportunities for scientific research, monitoring, and education. They support studies on biodiversity, ecosystem dynamics, climate change, and sustainable development, fostering knowledge exchange and capacity building. This can lead to advancements in scientific understanding, innovation, and the development of sustainable practices applicable beyond the reserves.

Cultural Preservation: Biosphere reserves often encompass areas with significant cultural heritage and indigenous communities. The recognition by UNESCO highlights the importance of preserving cultural traditions, promoting cultural diversity, and supporting sustainable development while respecting local customs and traditions.

Collaboration and Networking: Being part of the UNESCO biosphere reserve network enables collaboration and knowledge sharing with other reserves worldwide. This exchange of experiences, expertise, and best practices can contribute to capacity building, policy development, and the implementation of sustainable development goals.

Overall, the UNESCO biosphere reserves in Pakistan bring numerous cost benefits, including economic growth through tourism, environmental conservation, research opportunities, cultural preservation, and collaboration with international partners. These benefits not only contribute to the specific sites but also have positive impacts on Pakistan’s overall development and its recognition as a responsible steward of its natural and cultural heritage.

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Syed Harir Shah
CEO at Chitral Travel Bureau | 0301-5056433 | | Website | + posts

Syed Harir Shah: Experienced professional in DRR, climate change adaptation, and organization development. Worked with Red Cross, German International Cooperation, and Aga Khan Development Network. Skilled in project management, coordination, and integration. Expertise in community-based DRR, emergency response, and mainstreaming. Implemented programs in livelihood, health, WASH, food security, and shelter. Proficient in research, advocacy, capacity building, and organizational development. Collaborates with stakeholders and represents organizations in coordination mechanisms. Strong in resource mobilization and inclusive programming. Applies innovative, participatory, and holistic approaches for resilience building.

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