All the threats to the Biodiversity in Pakistan ultimately can be attributed to the increase in population. However, the rate of increase in population has been cut to 2.6% in the late 1990s from 3.6% of the 1980s. Urbanisation is on the increase and presently is 4.6%. The policies in context are not sensitive to the ecological considerations. No EIAs are conducted in urban and rural land use planning; resultantly invasion from one land use to the other is common. Protected areas have been declared but the rules for conservation are not fully implemented.
This section describes Pakistan’s plant species of particular importance. The major threats to Pakistan’s plant Biodiversity are also listed, and actions that have been taken or are proposed for plant Biodiversity conservation are described.
Pakistan has over 5700 species of flowering plants reported in the Flora of Pakistan (Nasir and Ali, 1970) with around 400 endemic species and 4 endemic genera (Douepia, Suleimania, Spiroseris, and Wendelboa).
The National Herbarium, Islamabad is the federal institution engaged in data collection on the floral diversity of Pakistan with over 100,000 plant specimens stored in primary field data. The National Herbarium has prepared the first account of the Flora of Pakistan, an inventory of plant diversity of the country. The National Herbarium has started preparing databases to facilitate scientific research and information exchange with other regional institutions in the country. A database to prioritise medicinal plants for conservation is near completion. This information will be useful to assess the market demand and conservation status of rare plants greatly in demand. This information will be helpful in taking the necessary steps for the cultivation of threatened species to ensure a sustainable supply to markets and to determine research priorities.
3.1 Medicinal Plants
Medicinal plants are a major source of drugs for the treatment of various health disorders. Pakistan has around 6000 species of wild plants (Stewart 1972) out of which about 400-600 are considered to be medicinally important. An estimated 80% of the rural population of Pakistan depends on a traditional medicinal system called Unani for their primary healthcare needs, the majority of which uses plants or their active ingredients. See Box 2 for details of the Unani system.
The four ecological regions where medicinal plants are exploited commercially are described below:
3.1.1 Medicinal Plants of Alpine and High Altitude Areas
Most plants of these areas are slow-growing perennials, which require several years of vegetative growth for reproduction by seed. Most of these are classified as threatened or vulnerable. Endangered plant species of this area include Podophyllum hexandrum, Saussaurea costus, Picrorrhiza kurrooa, Aconitum heterphyllum, and Corydalis spp.
3.1.2 Medicinal Plants of Temperate Montane Forest
Common medicinal plants of these areas are Atropa acuminata, Angelica glauca, Paeonia emodi, Geranium wallichianum, Artemisia spp., Glycyrrhiza glabra, and Ephedra spp.
3.1.3 Medicinal Plants of Sub-Tropical Foothill Forests
Species found here include Terminalia spp., Mallotusphilippensis, Phylanthusembilica, Buteamonosperma, etc.
3.1.4 Medicinal Plants of Arid and Semi-Arid Areas
Some important species of medicinal plants of commercial importance like Artemisia spp., Ephedra gerardiana, E. procera, Bunium persicum, etc. are found in cold arid habitats. In warm arid areas, species like Commiphora wightii are widely distributed.
3.2 Present Status
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), approximately 400 plant species are used extensively in traditional medicines. The Tibbi Pharmacopoeia of Pakistan (a pharmacopoeia of traditional drugs compiled by the Tibbi Board) has listed around 900 single drugs and about 500 compound preparations made of medicinal plants. There are about 27 large herbal manufacturing companies in Pakistan, which produce Unani medicines on a commercial scale. The number of herbal medicine manufacturers in the non-organised sector runs into the hundreds. The annual turnover of some large herbal manufacturers is comparable to multinational companies in Pakistan. Traditional healers (around 50,000 in numbers, including homeopaths) serve about 60% of the population, especially those living in the rural areas.
Box 2: The Unani System of Medicine in Pakistan 3
Unan is the local name for Greece, and the Unani system is the Greek system of medicine. The great Greek scholars perfected this system and physicians like Aristotle etc. The later empires of the Byzantine however shelved all Greek knowledge and the world was ignorant of its existence during the dark ages of Europe. It was Mamun ur Rasheed, the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad, who in the eleventh century launched big campaigns to acquire the old Greek works and had them systematically translated in the 12th century AD. This system reached perfection when the Indian knowledge of medicine was added during Mamun’s time. The practitioner of Unani medicine is called a Hakim. A Hakim has to pass a four-year course in one of the Tibbia colleges. There are more than 20 reputed Tibbia colleges in Pakistan. Hakims had always enjoyed respect and power in the courts of the kings of India. Hakim Ajmal Khan was the best known Hakim of the last century. His formulations like Ajmaleen were patented in Germany. Hakim Saeed founder chair of the Hamdard Foundation is another renowned Hakim. Due to the work of Hakim Saeed, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised the Unani system in the early eighties, when the Government of Pakistan also gave it official status. The GoP set up a Tibbi Council under the Ministry of Health. The council has an elected president and fifteen elected members. A draft law, the Unani Drug Act, has been debated and is likely to be promulgated by July 2000. This law will standardise the formulations and set pharmaceutical standards in packaging etc.
The Unani System of medicine is based on the concept of developing resistance in the human body against disease. It is weak in surgery but quite effective in medicine. Unani medicines are known to have no side effects. A commercial manufacturer of Unani medicine is known as a ‘Dawa Khana,’ the largest among them being Hamdard. Others are Qarshi, Rehmania, Ajmal etc.
Hakims are available all over Pakistan. Some use branded medicine while others make their own. Most of the formulations are passed down from father to son. However, Hakim Saeed of the Hamdard Foundation, published formulations and set up research laboratories in Karachi. Hamdard also takes up the cultivation of medicinal plants at its research site called Madinatul Hikmet, Karachi. Only a narrow band of other medicinal herbs is cultivated in the private sector.
Since herbs are the main source of Unani medicine, threats to the ecosystems are threats to human health. Due to shortages, the Unani system has also started extracting the active ingredient only. A classic example is the common household traditional medicine for flu - ‘Joshanda.’ Joshanda is no more available in the market in its original form (a blend of herbs). Instead, only powdered commercial brands are currently available.
3.2.1 Threatened Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of Pakistan
Although adequate data is not available about medicinal plants that require conservation, there is overwhelming agreement among experts in the country that the most threatened ecosystems are the alpine and temperate Himalayan forests in the north of the country. There is also agreement that almost all the forests of Pakistan have been exploited heavily during the last two decades (including the medicinal plants).
To initiate conservation efforts, Pakistan has established reserve areas, mainly national parks covering about 10% of the total land. Please see chapters 4 and 5 for further details. Ex-situ conservation of medicinal and aromatic plant seeds has recently been initiated at the Plant Genetic Resource Institute (PGRI) at NARC in Islamabad, where a special department called the Hakim Mohammad Saeed Chamber has been established.
Pakistan has a number of institutions involved in research and development work on medicinal plants. However, except for a few, the majority are either inadequately equipped or do not have the human and financial resources required for the assigned work. The institutions engaged in research are listed in Appendix C.
3.2.3 Conclusion and Recommendations
The regular up-date of data is essential for monitoring the conservation of plant Biodiversity. A single institution should be designated to store and maintain data on Biodiversity for analysis and dissemination.
Reliable inventories of endangered and threatened plant species need to be prepared so that effective step can be taken for their conservation.
The strengthening of institutions to expand and improve the information base is required. Secondly, the development and institutionalisation of systems to monitor the components of Biodiversity is also needed.
For in-situ conservation, better management of National Parks and other reserve areas is required.