Pakistan on the verge of climate change

By Waqas Iqbal

There are plethora of phrases but only few are ‘facts’ and there are very few collocations which are facts and concepts as well at the same time; ‘climate change’ is a case in point. The year 2022 dragged my attention towards climate change many a times for instance, Lahore had more rainfalls in last winter which increased the quantity of moisturizer in atmosphere and suddenly, in the mid of March; the summer began while April was the hottest month in the last six decades not only in Lahore but across the country. Furthermore, in May-2022 unexpected collapse of Hassanabad Bridge at the Kara-Koram Highway (KKH) in the Gilgit-Baltistan also alarmed me regarding drastic changes in weather patterns due to climate change effects. Hence, an early and overstretching ‘Monsoons’ which began in the end of June and still continues surprisingly, resulted into unprecedented massive rainfalls in the drought ridden barren lands of Balochistan finally; convinced me that the challenge of climate change is bigger than any other internal or external security concern for Pakistan. Since 1994 the United Nations (UN) broadened the spectrum of ‘National Security’ by adding human security alongside conventional security. However, ‘environmental security’ is a subset of human security. In fact, Pakistan also announced probably, its first comprehensive national security policy i.e. ‘National Security Policy 2022-2024 in January; this document has a separate chapter on human security which has mentioned the word climate twelve times and the phrase ‘climate change’ eight times, similarly, the word ‘water’ nineteen times and the phrase ‘water security’ two times. It depicts that the decision makers are seriously concerned about the human security in Pakistan. The phenomenon of ‘climate change’ may be new for the masses but contrarily, our policy makers, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders knew about the disastrous effects of climatic changes. But what’s not new for the masses and policy makers and administrators alike i.e. ‘Floods’ and ‘Flood Mismanagement’. Even the above mentioned National Security Policy document has only two mentions about the ‘natural disasters’ and ironically, not a single mention of floods. Today, again Pakistan confronting another deadliest flood which indeed a rare natural disaster and will going to affect sustainable development of the nation in the coming decades but the cause of ongoing flood is the outcome of climate change effects. In fact, Pakistan have had a long history of floods according to the Federal Flood Commission report Pakistan has witnessed floods in almost all decades except 1960s the first one occurred in 1950. However, if we focus strictly on climatic changes than in 21st century the first colossal flood was occurred in 2010 while the contemporary deluge is larger than the former having the same root causes. The 1975 massive flood triggered the establishment of the Federal Flood Commission however, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was founded after the devastating earthquake of 2005 and later creation of Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) further expanded the operations of NDMA. But contrarily these all arrangements are reactionary in nature as they address only the climate change effects instead of its causes. Moreover, the decades long governance crisis, continuing political instability and unending interprovincial disputes are also responsible for the ambiguous policies and mismanagement of floods.

In fact, if we deeply dig out the immediate cause of current inundation the answer is widening deforestation and ‘glacial lake outburst floods’ and technically, we can call it ‘environmental degradation’.

If we generally look upon the ‘climate change’ the former prime minister of Pakistan Mr. Imran Khan seems more concerned about it among his political counterparts and his drive for deforestation i.e. Billion Trees Tsunami Program already made positive headlines in the global media and he had always been vocal about the environment protection. In 2019 while addressing the 74th session of UN General Assembly he said, “There will be climate refugees in the future”, “Climate change is something which cannot be dealt by any individual country until the world gets together,” he added. During his reign National Climate Change Policy-2021 was announced and several initiatives were taken to address the climate change threats but still Pakistan has a long way to go. The devolution of ‘Ministry of Environment’ from federal to the provincial jurisdiction under 18th amendment also hampering the policy implementation regarding environmental security and national action plans for the accomplishment of relevant Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The massive human loss and infrastructural damages in the contemporary floods can be avoided if we could have learnt a lesson from the 2010 flood; it needs prioritization and synergy of multiple stakeholders by keeping in view the forthcoming effects of climate change. Hence, the comprehensive ambit of climate change galvanized environmental security umbrella as other dimensions of human security like; food security, health security, community security, water security, economic security etc. all depends upon it.
According to the latest report of NDMA the 1121 deaths, 39100 houses completely and 743248 partially destroyed, 775345 cattle carried away by the flood, 192 bridges and 3748 km roads and several railway tracks are also abolished by the current deluge so far, hence these stats are not final. However, in 2010 Pakistan had the second deadliest floods in the history it took 1985 lives and inundated 17, 553 villages over 160,000-square km area, affecting 21 million people. The images and videos of flood affected areas are horrifying but the post-flood times will be more challenging because the magnitude of the developing human crisis will largely affect the already fragile human security and also enhance the socio-economic vulnerabilities of Pakistan.

Here question arises is there any way out? The answer is ‘yes’ but it’s not a panacea rather a process. First of all ‘The Climate Change’ must be considered a national security threat by all the decision making institutions. Second, water reservoirs, effective water management especially by removal of encroachments from the natural course of water across the country and climate friendly construction must be ensured. Third National Policy of Climate Change must be revised in the light of current damaged occurred by the flood-2022 and also have future assessments regarding climate change. Fourth, a comprehensive action plan is required for the accomplishment of SDGs particularly for SDG-13 and 15 in order to mitigate the effects of future natural disasters by engaging the corporate sector. Fifth, a non-traditional exclusive awareness campaign regarding the climate change effects is need of the hour. In fact, human security generally and climate change specifically an ill-informed and poorly understood concept in Pakistan among the decision makers, civil society and masses and most of the time it is overshadowed by the political malaise and institutional tussles.

Eric Usher, the head of the finance initiative of the United Nations Environment Program said: “At the heart of the climate challenge are two gaps we urgently need to bridge — the ambition and the investment gap.” This statement depicts our climate change dilemma.

The ongoing natural disaster is calling us to understand the sensitivity of the matter because we all know that all the international climate watchdogs always ranked Pakistan among the top-10 vulnerable countries in the world but we remain ignorant to this bitter reality. In sum, the devastating natural calamity is trying to make us realize that the writ of the state is not only violated by the terrorist or the external enemy but it is also violated when the state’s approved ‘Building Code’ is violated by the mafias at large.

The writer is a Lahore-based researcher and teaches international relations. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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