Terrestrial ecosystems have encountered substantial warming over the past century, with temperatures increasing about twice as rapidly over land as over the oceans. Although the transition has gradually taken place in over 18 million years or so, the world is not the same planet as its used to be. Its warmer in November, like never before and summer comes as early as March. Heat waves and excruciatingly humid and hot weather all year around have somehow left us in limbo, where floods have risen targeting thousands of cities creating red zones where they were natural safe havens. Suddenly, we are looking up to the weather and all of a sudden, we are cautious & informed as disasters take shape & natural calamity makes news. For some of us might find hospitable environments close by, others may not have anywhere to migrate.
Overall worldwide research has indicated that despite a growing consensus about climate change’s ability to disrupt societies, and ultimately threaten global security, we do not yet clearly know what is the potential estimated damage in terms of the climate-induced sociopolitical changes and how they would present themselves as the real and present danger. Predominantly food and water insecurity may be the basic visible factor that can be studied as a primary, yet there are other impacts.
According to the Center of International and Security Studies at Maryland USA, Pakistan is one of the high risk fragmented economies at risk: “Piecing together publicly available data about Pakistan, it is clear that climatic changes disturb the social and political equilibrium of a society by either creating new fault lines in the social, political, or ethnic landscape of that society, or by exacerbating existing ones. Disequilibrium brought about by climatic variability creates new winners and losers, and manifests itself in the form of social and political unrest by heightening tensions among them. Conflict may come later and will be difficult to reverse, as it will occur not only due to resource scarcity but also because of political grievances and tensions in a highly fragmented society”.
In Pakistan case , climatic variability has altered the availability and distribution of resources and disturbed the country’s social and political balance during the past several years. A rift has emerged between Pakistan’s agriculturist ruling elite, who play a dominant role in the distribution of resources, and the country’s manufacturing sector. The agricultural sector has received preferential treatment in the distribution of water for irrigation, substantially reducing the amount reserved for hydroelectric power generation. This has pitted big landowners against the owners of small- and medium-sized manufacturing units, as well as the country’s sizable urban population who have to go without electricity for over 18 hours per day in most parts of Pakistan. Since both agriculturists and manufacturers are present in almost all ethnic and political groups in Pakistani society, this new fault line crisscrosses preexisting groupings and further complicates an already complex problem. New winners and losers have emerged both within and between various political and ethnic subgroups, causing enormous social and political unrest. The recent monsoon in Pakistan for example ; was a test study with actual scary results. The eye opener occurred with River Chitral already in high floods. Thousands of crops destroyed in a day all the country and millions of people displaced in minutes. Other rivers like Kabul, Swat, Haro and Soan already picking up high speed intensity made the situation worse. In cities like Karachi, it rained for one day alone and massive damage was reported with electricity and traffic emergencies alongside human casualties.
Pakistan has suffered devastating monsoon floods for the last three years, including the worst in its history in 2010 when catastrophic inundations killed almost 1,800 people and affected 21 million. According to Al-Jazeera news , Pakistani disaster relief officials have issued fresh flood warnings after the death toll from heavy monsoon rains rose to 45 and waters devours parts of the main cities including Karachi, the economic nerve center of the country. It is an undeniable fact that no government in Pakistan has ever inherited an economy in as terrible a shape as the one we have right now, but still, we have to find a way out to address this issue eventually, despite being hooked on issues like defense, rural development, water sanitation, educational reform , crime, civil rights, justice and so forth. If this problem comes along hitting us from behind, all else would be wiped off the map. More importantly, we also have to study the distinction between big natural disasters like flash floods, extended droughts, etc., and the slow and gradual variability in the climate. Whereas the former can unite a people in the face of environmental emergencies of a disproportionate nature, the latter has shown an unmatched ability to divide, at least in the case of Pakistan. Most ongoing effects of climate change, it seems, are too small and gradual (compared to the effects of natural disasters such as floods and droughts) to be noticed immediately by the people experiencing this climate change.
The effects of climate change on Pakistani society have been among the most significant observed anywhere in the world. An increase in the mass balance of the Karakoram glaciers, a phenomenon unique in the Himalayan region, has substantially reduced water flows in the Indus River basin. The pattern of rainfall throughout the country has varied widely,and the duration and intensity of the summer season has increased. Pakistan, by virtue of being predominantly an agrarian society, is highly sensitive to climate change. Its land area is mostly arid and semi-arid. About 60 percent of the country receives less than 250mm of rainfall per year and 24 percent receives between 250mm and 500mm. Agriculture and related activities constitute the country’s single largest economic sector, contributing 23 percent to GDP and employing 44 percent of the workforce. As much as 65 percent of the country’s foreign exchange is earned from the export of goods manufactured from raw material obtained from the agricultural sector. The above facts clearly indicate the adverse affect global warning can eventually have on this country.
Some more facts indicate, that the per-capita surface water availability in Pakistan, which was 5,260 cubic meters in 1951, shrank to 1,038 cubic meters in 2010, and is expected to decrease to 800 cubic meters by 2025, according to the government’s own estimates. While it is hard to establish a causal link between climate change and decreases in per-capita water availability (which may be a result of an over five-fold increase in the country’s population between 1951 and 2012). The real fact remains that this Pakistan’s population has risen rose from approx. 34 million in 1951 to approx. 170 million in 2012 and a future with even a slight climatic variability may have serious ramifications for Pakistani society.
In 2011, The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) – the Pakistani institution responsible for monitoring the flow of Indus Basin rivers as well as the apportionment of their waters among the provinces – reported that river flows at the Tarbela dam stood at 176,000 cusecs (cubic feet per second) compared to the usual flow of 250,000 cusecs for the summer season, suggesting lower flows of about 75,000 cusecs per day. The flow of the Jhelum River at the Mangla dam has decreased as well, with only 26,000 cusecs measured in July 2011 instead of the dam’s normal 45,000 – 50, 000 cusecs. While direct rainfall contributes less than 15 percent of the water needed for the country’s irrigation systems, the Indus and its tributaries have traditionally provided a majority of the water for Pakistan’s irrigation needs. The Indus River and its tributaries on average deliver about 155 million acre-feet (MAF) of water annually. Of this, about 104.7 MAF is diverted for irrigation, while 39.4 MAF flows to the sea and about 9.9 MAF is consumed by system losses, including evaporation, seepage, and spills during floods.
For example, on the issue of Kalabagh Dam, something extremely critical that was proposed through the world bank through the Indus Basin Study conducted in 1970s. In the 90s, the idea was brought up again, to first complete Kalabagh and then make Basha dam after consensus. The Council of common interests ( CCI ) has already given the agreed consensus in principle, yet our politicians are created this bizarre perception of being deprived of water , creating an opposition to building Kalabagh Dam. In case of Kalabagh Dam, Sindh would have gotten 4.2 million acre feet of water alone, making it abundantly water-rich exposing the false claims otherwise. Kalabagh will produce up to 15 billion units of power every year with an annual 22 billion in cost. This cheap power will annually displace costly power worth approximately Rs300 billion with consequential savings of costly oil imports. This saving alone would wipe out the current account deficit, boost reserves and strengthen the rupee amongst other benefits, like potentially Zero load shedding and increased industrial output by $5-6 billion a year. Its contribution to value addition in agricultural output could go up to $10 billion a year. The dam has the potential to single-handedly wipe out rural poverty in Pakistan. Every province stands to benefit from this project in reality with the net save of 12 billion a year for Pakistan or even higher, each year we waste away thinking.
Pakistanis have to educate themselves on a very serious note that the flows of water are not the only significant indicator of climatic changes in Pakistan. Recent weather surveys have also have identified increases in maximum and minimum temperatures in summer and winter seasons, respectively, particularly in the first decade of this century. The late onset and early ending of winter seem to have reduced the length of the growing season for winter, or Rabi, crops, with sharp rises in winter temperatures causing the forced maturity of grains and reducing economic yields. Wheat, the most important staple crop in Pakistan, is grown in the Rabi (winter) season. If wheat is not irrigated properly it can result in shortages, which could have serious consequences for the country’s food security. Perhaps this is the reason why the agriculture sector enjoys preferential treatment during times of water shortage, when there is just enough water available for either irrigation or power generation but not both.
As we learn more and more, the dynamics of the country is rapidly undergoing change and one has to put things into perspective. Can we survive in ignorance or are we finally going to proactively study the policy that governs our system of providing adequate funds for research on climate change, fund allocations to affected sectors and their accountability through good governance. This is where our average population stands clueless on how to manage for their next generations. In short, we need an economic policy with a window of opportunity to address climate changes that affect our economics and survival: Global Warming -something that is lethal and unpredictable as one of the clear and present dangers of this century.
Zeeshan Shah – is a writer on International relations, Economics and Public Policy.
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