Pakistan is a lower middle-income country located in South Asia, with a total area of 796,100 km². It is located between the Karakoram Mountain range, the Himalayas and China to the north-east and is bordered by India to the east, Iran to the south-west, and Afghanistan to the north-west. The Arabian Sea is Pakistan’s southern boundary with 1,046 km of coastline . The coastline is characterized by a variety of habitats, such as the Indus Delta, thick mangroves forests, riverine forests, irrigated plains, fresh water and brackish wetlands, islands, bays, creeks, mudflats, salt marshes, estuaries, lagoons, and beaches.
The country has a varied topography that consists of the flat Indus plain in the east, Cholistan and Thar deserts with sand dunes and clay pans in the south east, and the Balochistan plateau in the south west. Further, the Karakoram Range, one of the world's highest mountain ranges, is in the north and northwest part of the country . In addition to the Karakoram Range, Northern Pakistan is home to two other famous mountain ranges: the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush . The main river in the territory is the Indus River, which runs through the country from north to south. The Indus Plain formed by the Indus River and its tributaries is an important food producing area in the territory.
Pakistan lies in a temperate zone and its climate is as varied as the country’s topography—generally dry and hot near the coast and along the lowland plains of the Indus River and becoming progressively cooler in the northern uplands and Himalayas .
Pakistan is a federal, parliamentary republic with three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. The present Constitution came into force in 1973 and has been amended several times, most recently in 2018. Pakistan is divided into four provinces, namely the Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, including two special zones in its jurisdiction.
Pakistan, with a population of over 235 million as of September 2022, is the fifth most populous country in the world . Between 1998 and 2017, the country experienced an average annual population growth rate of 2.4% , the highest in South Asia . Pakistan’s high population growth rate could be attributed to several factors, including Pakistan’s low contraceptive prevalence. Pakistan has the lowest contraceptive prevalence rate in South Asia, which over the last few years, has stagnated at 35%. One in five married women in Pakistan are unable to access effective methods of family planning if they want to avoid pregnancy or plan the number and spacing of their children. Low contraceptive prevalence may be attributed to weak service delivery systems and markets, and cultural norms . According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), if contraceptive use rises from the current 35% to 55% in Pakistan, 4,200 mothers and 140,000 infants could be saved from maternal death and infant mortality each year .
Pakistan is one of the most urbanized nations in South Asia. According to the country’s 2017 Population Census, 36.4% of the population live in urban areas. By 2025, the UN Population Division estimates that nearly 50% of the country’s population will be living in cities . Currently, more than half of Pakistan’s urban population live in ten major cities, having populations exceeding one million . However, there are only 2 cities in the country with a population exceeding 10 million (Karachi and Lahore) . Pakistan is confronted with a host of urban challenges. For instance, urban population growth in the country has not been matched by growth in housing units or equitable access to land, resulting in housing shortages and the growth of slums . In Karachi, there are more than 600 slums. Further, Karachi is home to the largest slum in Asia, Orangi Town, with an estimated population of 2.4 million . The country’s rapidly growing urban population is also putting intense pressure on the environment, through increased demands for fresh water, energy, land, and other resources and through the generation of more waste and pollution .
Over the past two decades, Pakistan has achieved significant poverty reduction and has reached middle-income status , , but the country continues to face considerable macro-fiscal fragility that could place significant constraints on its ability to sustain growth and further enhance equity . From 2007 onwards, the country's economic performance has been affected by devastating floods, internal security hazards, and the energy crisis . Over the period 2000 to 2018, growth of per capita gross domestic product (GDP) averaged only around 2.1%  – less than half of the regional average . Further, Pakistan’s economic growth was seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic .
Supported by accommodative macroeconomic policies, Pakistan’s economy expanded by 6% in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022, as it recovered from the impacts of COVID-19 . But amid the devastating floods that hit the country in 2022, the country’s GDP growth is forecast to slow to between 2- 3.5% in fiscal year (FY) 2023 (ending 30 June 2023) due to the floods, policy tightening, and critical efforts to tackle sizeable fiscal and external imbalances , . According to the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) of the 2022 floods, the loss in GDP as a direct impact of the floods is projected to be around 2.2% of FY22 GDP , .
Pakistan's economy is driven by three main sectors - agriculture, manufacturing, and services. The sectoral shares of GDP production in 2018-19 were: Agriculture (18.5%), Manufacturing (13.5% - 13.8%); Other Industries (5.8%); and Services (53.86%) . As a result of the direct impacts of the 2022 floods, the agriculture sector is projected to contract the most, at 0.9% of GDP, with floods causing the most losses to cotton, dates, sugarcane, and rice crops. The damage and losses in agriculture will have spillover effects on the industry, external trade, and services sectors. For instance, flood-related cotton losses are expected to weigh on the domestic textile industry, as local cotton constitutes about half of the industry’s required cotton input. Textiles account for around one-quarter of total industry output and more than half of goods exports. Similarly, the local food processing and slaughtering industries will be negatively impacted by the expected reduction in food harvests and reduced supply of livestock. As a result, industry sector value added is consequently expected to shrink by 0.7% of FY22 GDP, while services sector value added is projected to decline by 0.6% of FY22 GDP , .
The devastating floods will also have adverse effects on poverty reduction . Prior to the floods, in 2018-2019, 21.9% of the population (around 50 million people) lived below the national poverty line. Rural poverty was more than twice as high as urban poverty (28.2% compared to 10.9%), and four out of five poor households lived in rural areas. As a direct consequence of the floods, the national poverty rate is projected to increase by 3.7 to 4.0 percentage points, pushing between 8.4 and 9.1 million more people into poverty, according the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) of the 2022 floods .
In order to achieve sustainable development, Pakistan recognizes that there is a need to improve its Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) base . To move in this direction, the Government of Pakistan formed in 2018-19, several Task Forces to strengthen science and technology in the country. As a result of these efforts, the development budget of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) has been enhanced, allowing for the implementation of several new important STI initiatives, for instance, on alternative energy and artificial intelligence. The 2020-21 budget for the Science and Technology Division of the Government of Pakistan was estimated at 311 Rs millions .
Further, since its independence, Pakistan has formulated 3 STI policies – (1) the National Science and Technology (S&T) Policy 1984; (2) National Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) Policy 2012; and (3) the National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy - 2022, which was approved on 11th January 2022 by MoST. This new policy recognizes the pivotal role of technology and innovation in addressing Pakistan’s development challenges and stresses the need for capacity building in technology development. It also calls for the transformation of the country’s cities into ‘’smart cities’’, that will employ emerging technologies aiming to give the citizens the opportunity to lead healthy lifestyles, through the provision of modern facilities like e-governance, modern security systems, efficient transport systems, green energy, and sustainable infrastructure. The policy also recognizes the importance of ICT based services, such as internet, for social development .
Pakistan faces some of the highest disaster risk levels in the world , ranked 24 out of 191 countries by the 2023 Inform Risk Index . This risk ranking is driven particularly by the nation’s exposure to earthquakes and the risk of internal conflict , . However, Pakistan also has high exposure to flooding, including, riverine, flash, and coastal, as well as some exposure to tropical cyclones and their associated hazards, and drought . In response, the Government of Pakistan has built a strong foundation for disaster management, around the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMA), and national legislation from 2010. In addition, the Government has well-established national development and disaster risk reduction frameworks, including the Pakistan Vision 2025, the National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP) 2012-2022, and the National Flood Protection Plan (IV) (NFPPIV) 2015-2025 .
Internal conflict and disasters are driving migration and displacement in Pakistan. In 2020, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), 104,000 displacements due to conflict and 829,000 displacements occurred due to disasters in different areas. Approximately 910,000 persons were Internally displaced people (IDPs) in 2021. Many of these people remain displaced across the country, as conflict and poverty prevent them from returning to their areas of origin. This movement puts pressure on the already weak health care systems of hosting districts and contributes to a worsening food security situation in the country .
Food insecurity persists in some areas of Pakistan, in particular in Balochistan and Sindh, the provinces with the highest prevalence of food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty. Between March and June 2021, over 3.8 million people (26% of the population analysed) in Pakistan’s Balochistan and Sindh provinces were facing high levels of acute food insecurity, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification . Further, lost food stocks, poor harvests, and rising food prices due to the 2022 floods are expected exacerbate food insecurity and nutrition outcomes in the country. According to the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) of the 2022 floods, an additional 7.6 million people face food insecurity at the national level in Pakistan, increasing from 7 million to 14.6 million people, as a result of loss of production and price increases. The highest number of food insecure people are in Sindh (8.2 million), followed by Balochistan (2.4 million), KP (2.3 million), and Punjab (1.7 million) .
Gender inequality is of significant concern in Pakistan . In the 2022 Global Gender Gap Index Report, Pakistan ranked 145 out of 146 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index, placing only above Afghanistan. This index measures the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment). However, Pakistan did register significant improvement across three subindexes, with the highest positive variation on Economic Participation and Opportunity . The Government of Pakistan remains committed to the cause of women empowerment. This is reflected in medium- and long-term strategic vision documents, pro-women laws enacted, and the policies of various institutions and ministries to mainstream gender into their planning and service delivery . There is also an increasingly visible women’s movement in the country, as recently seen during the 4th Aurat (Women’s) March on 8 March 2021 for International Women’s Day .
Pakistan has developed several laws, policies and plans related to the environment. The Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (PEPA) 1997 represents the first time a comprehensive policy for environmental protection was passed into law. PEPA established the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) , as well as Environmental Protection Agencies in all four provinces . Currently, the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency, is an executive agency of the Government of Pakistan managed by the Ministry of Climate Change. The agency is charged with protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulation based on laws passed by Parliament . As part of the Act, Pakistan also signed several Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), agreeing to implement their provisions in full. However, the guidelines from international organizations did not fully take into account the unique environmental challenges faced by Pakistan.
The Pakistan Environmental Protection Council was reconstituted after enactment of the new law i.e., the Pakistan Environment Act 1997. The major functions of the Council include: coordinate and supervise enforcement of PEPA; approve comprehensive national environmental policies and ensure their implementation; approve the national Environment Quality Standards; provide guidelines for the protection and conservation of species, habitats and biodiversity in general and for conservation of renewable and non-renewable resources; coordinate integration of the principles and concerns of sustainable development into national development plans and policies; and consider the national environment report and give appropriate directions thereof.
Key environmental policies introduced in Pakistan include, among others: the National Environment Policy (2005), the National Sanitation Policy (2006), the National Forest Policy (2015) , the National Water Policy (2018), the National Climate Change Policy and Action Plan (adopted in 2012, updated in 2021) , and the National Wetlands Policy (2012) . The updated National Climate Change Policy was designed in accordance with the requirements of the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Though various environmental policies have been introduced in the country, they have not been implemented properly and the environmental conditions in Pakistan are still precarious.
Pakistan and the EU have a long history of close collaboration based on shared values. For the period 2021-2027, the EU has highlighted 3 priority areas for its cooperation with Pakistan in the Multi-annual Indicative Programme (MIP): (i) Green Inclusive Growth; (ii) Human Capital; and (iii) Governance, including the Rule of Law and Human Rights. This programming document is guided by Pakistan’s strategic development priorities and the overall geopolitical programme of the European Commission (2019-2024), notably on promoting green and sustainable inclusive growth and jobs, advancing governance and human development, and fostering resilience, peace, and security, as well as digitalisation. Additionally, this MIP is underpinned by the EU’s European Consensus on Development, the European Green Deal, the recently adopted EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, and the EU Gender Action Plan III . In November 2022, Pakistan and the European Union also decided to strengthen their bilateral cooperation on migration and mobility .
Pakistan ranks among the top 10 countries worldwide most affected by climate change and natural disasters . With increasing temperatures, Pakistan has already experienced an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme climate events , which have been impacting the country’s ecosystems, people, settlements, and infrastructure . Between 1992 and 2021, according to the World Bank Group, climate- and weather-related disasters in Pakistan resulted in a total of US$29.3 billion of economic losses (inflation-adjusted to 2021 US dollars) from damage to property, crops, and livestock, equivalent to 11.1% of 2020 GDP . Significant events in Pakistan’s history include persistent drought that prevailed in the southern part of the country during 1998-2002 and again in 2014 and 2015; an extreme heat wave in 2015, where over 65,000 people were hospitalized with heat stroke; and the 2010 catastrophic flood which affected one-fifth of the country and 20 million people, and claimed over 2,000 lives , .
Pakistan’s agriculture sector is likely to be severely impacted by climate change , through reduced crop productivity, adverse impacts on livestock health and increased agricultural production losses because of extreme weather events . These impacts will increase the risk of extreme poverty, food insecurity, and malnutrition in the country, making progress in poverty reduction and human development far more challenging than it is today .
Water is becoming increasingly scarce in the country, despite having Pakistan's Indus Basin Irrigation System (IBIS), the largest contiguous irrigation system in the world . With a rapidly growing population, Pakistan is heading towards a situation of water shortage, which also threatens the country’s food security . Additionally, declining water quality is also a major concern in Pakistan, as many millions of people are exposed to unsafe drinking water . Studies have shown that between one-third and one-half of water used for drinking is bacterially contaminated with E. coli at source, and this includes piped water . Work by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) in 2010, indicated that water-linked diseases in Pakistan cause national income losses of PRs 25 billion to 28 billion annually, approximately between 0.6 and 1.44% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) .
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