An adaptive strategy to cope with climate change
Climate change has emerged as a complex global challenge. Experts predict that it will affect ecosystems, communities, economies and individuals on a grand scale resulting in mass migration across the globe. Even though there are no exact estimates concerning climate induced migration, however impending forecasts vary from 25 million to 1.0 billion “environmental migrants” by 2050. Nansen Initiative, a program launched by governments of Switzerland and Norway estimated a displacement of about 144 million people alone due to frequent natural disasters between 2008 and 2012.
The mountainous region of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral is one such highly vulnerable area facing the brunt of climate change with every passing month and year. Highly glaciated mountains and unstable slopes make the area prone to Glacier Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF), avalanches, flash floods, mudflows and landslides. As these areas are highly prone to natural hazards, climate change may further trigger and amplify the risk manifold if not managed.
In the recent years, the frequency of climate change induced natural disasters such as flash floods, landslides, GLOFs, and avalanches has increased many times, rendering hundreds of people in the area helpless, homeless and landless forcing them to migrate from their ancestral lands to other areas for the safety and survival of their families. Both the national and international experts are stating that in the near future, the impacts of climate change will be more serious and the frequency of climate induced disasters in these areas will escalate, resulting into mass displacements of climate migrants. Increase in extreme weather events, such as heavy precipitation, flash and river floods and warming and drying spells in the region is already the primary source of income i.e. agriculture and livestock. Despite the fact that the environment has always been a strong, although often indirect inducement to migration, climate change is likely to result in movements of populations in numbers never seen in written history.
The International Organisation for Migration Geneva in a publication titled Migration, environment and climate change: Assessing the evidence states that Circumstances in which climate change may lead to migration are very diverse. The bread earners of many families have started moving towards other areas including down country and international destinations in search of better and secure livelihoods. But those who lack the resources and skills to do so are fettered to live in areas prone to the constant threat of hazards. The most common but nevertheless highly contested estimate so far is that by 2050, 250 million persons will have been displaced globally because of climate change. Furthermore, some potential countries of destination have created policies to counter unauthorised environmental migration. India, for instance, has been building a 4,000 kilometre-long fence to protect its border with Bangladesh, where it fears that sea-level rise, combined with socioeconomic factors, may trigger outmigration.
Recently, many environmental organisations have taken initiatives towards capacity building for disaster resilience among the vulnerable communities such as FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance and Pakistan Red Crescent Society. However, so far no such step towards strategic planning and policy making has been taken to tackle the current situation of climate induced migration. As the local and national governments are busy addressing the issues of power and energy shortage and extremism in the country, cutting out the possibility of working on environmental issues and the related environmental agencies either lack the funds or motivation to work on the subject of climate change adaptation.
WWF-Pakistan is perhaps the first organisation to record and report migration of people from Yasin valley (Ghizer) to Darkut colony Gilgit and Damas (Ghizer) due to erratic floods in 2010, 2011 and 2013 damaging their homes and agricultural lands. Therefore, it is inevitable that climate change will further aggravate the situation of climate induced migration in these environmentally sensitive and fragile areas. Hence the role of government and the related environmental agencies becomes critical in addressing the subject, formulating migration inclusive policies and devising plans to integrate migration and remittances in climate adaptation strategies.
According to a baseline survey conducted by WWF-Pakistan and ICIMOD, the evidences of climate induced migration in district Ghizer, Hunza and Nagar have already been shown very high including migration for earning as well as migration to a safer place. Many of the respondent affected of Attabad Lake shared that disaster has completely transformed their lives and livelihoods. Families that were once financially strong and stable were rendered homeless and financially handicapped afterwards the disaster swaying many of the locals abandoning their homes and productive agricultural lands. Potato and cherry farmers are supposed to run small shops or to work in a new place on daily wages, which has influenced their family affairs and the structure eventually.
Looking at the incidence of natural disasters in recent decades, one can anticipate that what lies ahead; therefore there is a sheer need to improve the humanitarian capacities to deal with the displacement of populations due to climate induced disasters before they occur. A relocation scheme should be devised and be implemented gradually for those areas that are expected to become uninhabitable due to constant threat of climate induced hazards.