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Climate Change in Pakistan

Floodwaters in Pakistan, 2010 (Image: DVIDSHUB)
Floodwaters in Pakistan, 2010 (Image: DVIDSHUB)

Global Climate Change resulting from an increasing concentration of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere has become an accepted and major theme in today‘s world.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the average temperature of the earth increased by 0.6°C over the last century and it is expected to further increase by 1.4 to 5.8ºC by the end of the current century. These changes in temperature are but the crest of the many environmental, social and political issues which will follow in the wake of the changing climate. Unfortunately the major causes of a rapidly warming climate can be attributed to anthropogenic activities such as the burning of fuel, the depletion of forests and changes in land use.

According to the climate news network article by Kieran Cooke "Climate change: One more problem for Pakistan", Climate change is now threatening the Indus river and the future of millions in Pakistan:

The Indus river, originating on the Tibetan Plateau and flowing for nearly 2,000 miles through the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir and finally down to the province of Sindh and out into the Arabian Sea, is key to life in Pakistan.  The majority of Pakistan’s 190 million people are involved in agriculture: the Indus, fed by glaciers high up in the Hindu Kush-Karakoram Himalaya mountain range, provides water for 90 percent of the country’s crops. Meanwhile hydro-power facilities based on the Indus generate around 50 percent of Pakistan’s total electricity.  In recent years, Pakistan has been working together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on its first national policy on climate change.  “Pakistan is among the most vulnerable countries facing climate risks”, says Marc-Andre Franche, the UNDP’s Pakistan director. ”Mechanisms need to be devised for greener, more resilient options for growth and sustainable development… the climate change clock is ticking too fast and the time to act is here and now.”

Pakistan’s scientists say that, in order for its national policy on climate change to be effective, a number of steps need to be urgently taken to mitigate the current impacts of climate change. These include developing high temperature-tolerant crop strains, comprehensive flood warning systems and more reservoirs on the upper Indus. But there are serious doubts about funding for such schemes.

Ghulam Rasul, chief meteorologist at the Pakistan Meteorological Departmentsays weather patterns are becoming increasingly erratic. In the 1999 to 2002 period Pakistan was hit by severe droughts as the flow in the Indus and its tributaries fell dramatically. But from 2010 until now a series of unusually intense monsoons caused the Indus to burst its banks, resulting in widespread floods in which thousands of people were killed and millions displaced.

“Pakistan’s climate-sensitive agrarian economy now faces larger risks from variability in monsoon rains, floods and extended droughts” says Rasul. “I urge the world to assist Pakistan to deal with climate change.”

Economy at Risk

According to data gathered from 56 meteorological stations throughout Pakistan, there has been a marked increase in heat waves and rising temperatures in the vast Indus Delta in recent years.  In an article in the Pakistan Journal of Meteorology, Rasul and others say there is a greater incidence of tropical cyclones and of saline intrusion in coastal regions. Already wheat and banana harvests in the Indus Delta are being affected.

Rising temperatures are also causing health problems among the area’s population. In many cases farmers in the region — among the poorest people in the world — are abandoning their lands and migrating to already overcrowded cities.

If this trend continues it could have devastating consequences for the wider economy. Sindh and the Indus Delta have become one of the world’s premier cotton-producing areas, feeding Pakistan’s economically vital textile industry. Falling cotton production in the region would not only hurt Pakistan: it would also trigger a substantial rise in world cotton prices.

Meanwhile in the mountainous far north most glaciers are in retreat, though some in the Karakoram Range are stable or even for as yet unknown reasons expanding. Experts say that while melting glaciers might offset temperature rises and act as a form of insurance against drought in the short term, the long term prognosis is not good.

In this scenario Pakistan Green Party members have trained 300 volunteers to increase awareness regarding the climate change disaster.  Pakistan is a zone of high risk, in 2015 Pakistan experienced an increase in earthquakes by seven times the average. The Pakistan Green Party responded by training volunteer trainers on disaster risk management and on how to protect against heat stroke, arranged peer face to face meetings to discuss climate change issues arising in their communities.

Climate Change in the context of Pakistan is posing three major and interdependent challenges relating to the water, food and energy security.  A cooperative approach by all relevant departments would be beneficial rather addressing each issue independently. Currently, the stewardship of climate change rests with the Ministry of Environment; however the Planning  Commission, and the Ministries of Water, Agriculture, and industry, the National Disaster Management Authority, and others, along with civil society organizations should also play an active role in finalizing and implementing the climate change agenda. Finally, some general suggestions that need to be incorporated across the board are;

Recommendations

A Climate change policy needs to be devised by taking into consideration the water, food and energy security of the country.  It should be done in a consultative manner in which all the relevant stakeholders are taken on board;

Provincial opinions should also be taken while finalizing the Climate Change policy.

  • Provinces should adapt action plans in light of the national policy developed, which should be consistent with the existing ground realities;
  • Technology   no   doubt   is   necessary   but   is   not   sufficient   alone.   The technocentric approach should be complemented by considering the social concerns as well. Doing so would help in building the ownership of the campaign to counter the effects of climate change;
  • The institutional capacity of different tiers of government should be built on adaptation measures side by side with the communities;
  • The capacity building of vulnerable communities should also be done and adaptation measures should be adopted that are consistent with the socio-economic realities of the beneficiaries.
Floodwaters in Pakistan, 2010 (Image: DVIDSHUB)

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