Climate change and Pakistan By Saleem Safi

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Karachi, the city of lights, is the commercial hub and financial capital of Pakistan. Being the backbone of the Pakistan’s economy, it contributes about 25 percent to the country’s GDP and 55 percent towards federal tax revenue. It is a most vibrant and generous city which contributes massively to the country’s prosperity and feeds everyone.

Unfortunately, for all this, the city has received nothing in return. On the contrary, it has become victim of man-made disasters caused by decades-long myopic policies, dangerous political designs, ethnic tussles, administrative incompetence and negligence.

The city now has changed from the city of lights to a city of darkness and a hub of hatred and terror. It has been looted and plundered at will and deeply divided on ethnic and sectarian lines.

Besides man-made calamities, Karachi is also facing a natural disaster in the shape of intense monsoon rains and heavy urban floods. The recent rains and floods have wreaked havoc with and paralyzed the city. Nature’s fury turned Karachi along with a few other cities of Sindh into ponds of water.

Right after that, a blame game was started in which the federal government of the PTI blamed the provincial government of the PPP for mismanagement and inefficiency. The provincial government, in turn, accused the district administrations and the federal government; the PSP and other political parties blamed both. The fact is that everyone has a massive share in the current mess and miserable plight of Karachi and no one can or should escape guilt and responsibility.

Karachi was the first capital city of Pakistan but became a special target of General Ayub Khan’s neglect when he shifted the capital to Islamabad. Bhutto furthered harmed the city by introducing a quota system. General Zia too contributed in its weakening by sponsoring religious groups and patronizing the MQM as a counter to the PPP.

The MQM established a reign of terror in the city by inciting violence and bringing in a culture of kidnapping, extortion, and bodies in gunny bags. Musharraf‘s patronage of the MQM further enhanced its impunity to loot and kill. In short, everyone played a part in bringing down the financial hub of the country.

The causes of the human-made disaster in Karachi are not a secret. However, natural disasters were a mystery for me and I set out to find out just why Karachi was treated so harshly by Mother Nature. To find the answer, I went through literature on climate change and also contacted environmental policy scholars like Dr Adil Najam. I got some shocking answers.

I found that the sudden and intense rain and heavy floods are the direct consequences of global warming and climate change. It was more worrisome to know that not only Karachi but every part, city, and the village of the country – from Lahore to Quetta and Islamabad and from Gilgit-Baltistan to Chitral – is exposed to the grave danger of climate change.

Climate change seems to be the mother of all the problems of the 21st century and an issue of grave concern for people’s lives and the country’s future. In this context, the responsibilities of State Minister for Climate Change Ms Zartaj Gul are heavier than those of Murad Saeed and Zulfi Bukhari etc.

Global warming is caused by the excessive emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. China, the US and other industrialized countries are the major contributors to greenhouse gas emission. Pakistan is not even in the list of top ten nations responsible for global warming. But unfortunately, it is on the seventh number in the list of the most affected countries by global warming.

But due to a lack of proper understanding, most of the people in Pakistan consider climate change as just increase in temperature and pollution, when in fact it is much more than that. Due to global warming, the global temperature has already increased by 2 degrees since its recording was started around 1880.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned in its special report on global warming that a 2 degrees Celsius increase in global warming will result in extreme heat, sea-level rise, heavy rainfall, flooding, severe drought, and other severe impacts on humans and ecological systems. The impact of global warming is worldwide and Pakistan too is bearing its brunt. Its consequences for Pakistan are manifold.

First, Pakistan will either face continuous drought or sudden heavy rainfall as we witnessed in in Karachi. It will affect the annual pattern of rainfall. It could cause six months of rain to fall in one or two days to paralyse urban and rural areas as happened in Karachi last week.

Second, agriculture is the largest sector of Pakistan’s economy with 21 percent contribution to GDP and 45 percentabsorption of the country’s labour force. Climate change will affect it in two ways. On the one hand, heavy rains will destroy major crops like wheat, rice, sugar-cane, maize, and cotton as it did in the interior of Sindh. On the other hand, due to the changing pattern of annual weather, our farmers will be unable to predict properly annual rainfall, cold and heat as they did in past and thus will give up the agriculture sector.

At times, there will be severe drought conditions and at times heavy rainfall and floods. Unfortunately, we have no proper planning and infrastructure to cope with this kind of situation. Thus, global warming will result in less economic growth and abject poverty in rural parts of the country where 63 percent of the population lives.

Third, global warming will result in glacier melt. As per a Washington Post report, Pakistan has more glacial ice than anywhere on earth outside the Polar Regions with 7,253 known glaciers. Though these glaciers seem a blessing, since they provide about 75 percent of the stored-water supply in the country, they can easily turn into a great natural disaster due to global warming. There are signs that glaciers in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral are slowing melting down. This will cause sea-level rise, landslides, avalanches, and glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF). The creation of Attabad Lake in Gojal Valley Hunza in 2010 and the death of 140 soldiers and civilians in the Siachen glacier region in 2012 were a result of landslides and avalanche. Moreover, Chitral recently witnessed heavy flood due to glacial lake outburst.

Fourth, if global warming is not stopped and continues at the current pace, experts warn that the sea level will rise considerably by the end of the century and will bring natural catastrophe to the coastal cities of the world. The coastal regions of Pakistan will be affected severely in that scenario.

In short, the existential threat of climate change and global warming has been caused by the greed of the advanced industrialized nations. Pakistan is in the most dangerous zone and exposed to severe impacts of climate change. The most worrisome of all is the fact that we have neither the sense nor any understanding of the looming threat and no effective planning. either To minimize its impact, we need a proper understanding of climate change and effective short- and long-term planning.