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Disaster after disaster

In this era of rapid climate change, the importance of climate projections in policymaking, resource management, economic activity and technological advancement cannot be denied. Information about changes in climate change and variability is required to anticipate the potential impacts of climate change on water resources and the agriculture, energy, health, industrial and private sectors.

Global warming is bringing a lot of interactive changes to the physical processes responsible for the climate system dynamics. Such changes sometimes appear as extreme events of unprecedented intensity casting irreversible loss to natural resources.

Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable countries to the consequences of climate change because of its diverse geographical and climatic features. The north of Pakistan hosts more than 5,000 glaciers while the south is composed of hyper deserts despite its close vicinity to the Arabian Sea. Precipitation and temperature gradients are converse of each other as winter and summer precipitation concentrates in the northern half. The upstream and downstream interaction, under increasing frequency and intensity of extreme hydrological events, makes the Indus Delta a highly risky zone for sustainable crop production.

The country is in the middle of terrible heatwaves, abrupt rainfalls, massive floods, droughts, infrastructure damage, and water shortages. Despite monsoon rains beginning in late June, many parts of the country still swelter.

Pakistan should treat these climate disasters as a full-fledged national security emergency before they stoke conflict that adds further stress amid the country’s other numerous challenges. For the past 20 years, Pakistan has consistently ranked among the top 10 most vulnerable countries on the Climate Risk Index, with 10,000 fatalities due to climate-related disasters and financial losses amounting to about $7 billion from 174 extreme weather events, including the initial loss and damage estimates of the recent floods.

These challenges threaten to spark a climate-related conflict over resources such as water. Climate-related disasters like floods have exacerbated tensions among groups who already have a history of conflict. Any of these scenarios would be a serious threat to Pakistan and have serious ramifications for any government in the immediate aftermath of a climate disaster or as part of efforts to limit the risk of future disasters.

The country is under threat of food, water, and energy insecurity. Unfortunately, it is not just a threat anymore but a reality for Pakistan. Combined with soaring inflation and the country’s continued political instability, this is a recipe for disaster.

All these trends are potential catalysts that could trigger climate-induced migration from rural areas to urban centres as citizens seek employment and stable living conditions. This puts an additional strain on the urban infrastructure that already cannot manage their current population levels. Besides, a high crime rate due to situational poverty is another threat. While the recent floods have made the government remember the long-forgotten intra-household poverty of women and children, when the nation is mourning the avoidable deaths, who can reflect upon these issues?

The country is already facing a triple environmental and planetary crisis of biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change and has lost several thousand acres of precious forest this year due to anthropogenic and natural disasters. And now when the flood has eroded fertile land and sediments, more carbon has been released from sediments into the atmosphere. This problem of unknown magnitude and transboundary effects can turn into a Godzilla of destruction one day.

The efforts made by the former and current governments are noticeable but not enough to circumcise this ever-changing climate system. The PTI administration had earlier vowed to have 30 per cent of the market covered by electric vehicles and receive 60 per cent of its energy from ‘clean’ sources by 2030. The PML-N-led coalition government has wisely continued the trend of strong leadership on climate change. While leadership on this issue is imperative, it is equally important that there is a tangible and sustained collaboration and coordination between the national and provincial governments to develop a roadmap to address the impacts of climate change on the country.

Owing to power devolution in Pakistan, issues like water, food and agriculture, and environment are ones where provinces have the authority to pass governing legislation, while climate change is a federal issue. This disconnect must be resolved through a more robust system for interprovincial coordination.

If Pakistan is serious about tackling climate change and investing in mitigation and adaptation efforts, the country must have a climate-focused NCOC. This will ensure that sufficient resources are allocated to address the impacts of climate change and appropriate coordination takes place that builds political consensus. This will necessitate the collaboration of key provincial and national agencies to produce a single action plan to address the effects of climate change. Also, because some of these measures will require provincial buy-in, the NCOC will carry out Pakistan’s national determined contributions under the Paris Accords.

Climate change, unlike Covid-19 where we have vaccinations and other mitigating strategies, is a much more difficult problem that will need long-term collaboration and dedication. Addressing climate change in Pakistan actually needs a full-government effort.

The repercussions of delay or inappropriate action may cause even more upheaval and unrest across Pakistani society. While hoping for political stability and pressurizing the government to regulate the issue of climate change, communities dealing with environmental issues must work on their resilience since the country will be left in a red ink. We must not forget that ‘winter is coming’.

Nudrat Fatima, "Disaster after disaster," The News. 2022-11-06.
Keywords: Environmental sciences , Global warming , Climate change , Climate disaster , Floods , Pollution , Paris , Pakistan , PTI , PMLN , NCOC