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Opinion Print 2024-06-05

Generation restoration: opportunities for universities

The Aga Khan University, Karachi “Life on Land,” the focus of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development ...
Published June 5, 2024

The Aga Khan University, Karachi

“Life on Land,” the focus of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 15, has been especially challenging in recent years. Devastating floods, years-long droughts, melting glaciers, deadly heat: the planet and its people appear locked in conflict. It would be understandable for individual citizens or institutions to feel both helpless and hopeless in the face of these global challenges. And yet, as we mark World Environment Day on June 5th, I am filled with optimism.

This year’s theme captures the cause for my confidence: “Our Land. Our Future. We are #GenerationRestoration.” It speaks to our shared responsibility and the power of partnership: we are truly stronger together. It also emphasizes the collective strength of our generation—in particular, our youth—to restore peaceful coexistence between humans and their environment.

It might come as a surprise that the Aga Khan University (or AKU), which established its reputation for its early focus on human health, is deeply engaged in issues of the environment. In fact, planetary and population health are fundamentally intertwined. Thus, while AKU continues to work on the frontlines to mobilise critical healthcare following natural disasters, environmental protection, climate action, and sustainability are integral components of our strategic plan and central to all our work.

Our academic programmes integrate a focus on environmental sciences. AKU is conducting ground-breaking research on the health effects of heat. The University has an ambitious framework to reduce operational emissions and support our partners and service providers to take similar actions.

We have established living laboratories for environmental study and experiential learning in Karachi, Pakistan and in Tanzania, at the Arusha Climate and Environment Research (ACER) Centre. Working with local communities, and regional and global partners, the ACER Centre is conducting studies on pollinators, soil and land health, with an increasing focus on water.

With this World Environment Day’s focus on restoring land, halting desertification, and building drought resilience, AKU is convening researchers and practitioners from Asia and Africa for a public webinar on “Partnerships and Innovations for Land and Climate Resilience”.

And I am especially excited for another initiative: planting microforests on our campuses and sites in Pakistan and East Africa in partnership with the Aga Khan Foundation and Aga Khan Health Services. Here in East Africa, this includes microforests at our new Nakawa campus site in Kampala; in Dar-es-Salaam; at AKU’s Arusha Climate and Environment Research Centre; and at our campus in Nairobi.

Microforests are like regular forests, but they grow more rapidly and occupy a fraction of the land. The environmental benefits of microforests are remarkable: they revitalise ecosystems and stimulate biodiversity; regenerate water and soil; reduce the temperature and purify the air in their vicinity; and absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, slowing down global warming. Moreover, microforests can enhance the health, nutrition and livelihoods of surrounding communities—an innovative, nature-based solution to improve the well-being of people and the planet.

Growing a microforest is an expression of hope. More importantly, it is an action open to all—from schoolchildren and teachers to local businesses, and community organisations. AKU’s initiative builds upon the efforts of the Aga Khan Foundation, which has helped community volunteers and students establish nearly 400 microforests in eight countries, in both urban and rural areas.

No single solution or single actor can address all the challenges to life on land, from restoring degraded soil, halting deforestation, reversing losses of biodiversity, or combatting desertification. But we all can plant the seeds of change. Together we can be #GenerationRestoration.

Dr Sulaiman Shahabuddin (President)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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