The report found that communities are responding to the climate threat despite low government support.
The writer is an award-winning environmental journalist. She holds an MA in Environment and Development from SOAS in London
People don’t trust the government to help them respond to climate change. With Pakistan becoming increasing vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, like floods and droughts, a recent BBC Climate Asia Report has found that around 72 per cent of people don’t trust the government to help them respond to these challenges. They have no confidence in the government taking action on issues of food, water, energy and extreme weather. Indeed, for the current government, which is battling terrorism and energy shortages, climate change is clearly not a priority and the ambitious National Climate Change Policy that was launched by the previous government in March 2013 has now been shelved.
The Climate Asia Report, which explores how communication can help people adapt to their changing environment, covered seven countries in Asia, including Pakistan. It surveyed the perceptions and experiences of those most affected by the changing weather and environment, including farmers, fishing communities and slum dwellers. The BBC’s Media Action team also interviewed policymakers, climate experts and members of the media reporting on climate change at a workshop held in Islamabad in 2012. Groups were made to identify the priority areas when it came to climate change impacts in Pakistan — water was identified as the most important issue. Either there is too much of it (floods) or there is not enough (droughts).
People across Pakistan are now experiencing unpredictable rainfall, increased temperatures and changes to the seasons. Other changes vary by region, such as increased rainfall and extreme weather events in Sindh and decreased rainfall in Balochistan. The Climate Asia Report found that compared with the other countries in this study, Pakistanis feel most strongly that these changes are having a high level of impact on their lives now (there were around 4,000 respondents to the survey in Pakistan).
Some of the most striking findings were those around decreasing access to basic resources such as water and fuel. Around 82 per cent of the people said resource availability is decreasing in electricity; 47 per cent said it is decreasing in fuel; 47 per cent said it is decreasing in water and 28 per cent said it is reducing in crop reduction. Almost everyone surveyed said that rain has either increased or decreased over the past 10 years — very few said that the weather has stayed the same. There was an overall feeling of doom and gloom; in fact, 54 per cent of the people think life has become worse in recent years.
However, given the people’s strong spirit of resilience, the report found that communities are responding to the climate threat despite low government support. Respondents told the BBC media action team of community efforts to build raised homes, provide shelters for livestock and put emergency plans in place. According to the report, “Many farmers are diversifying crops or seeking alternative livelihoods in response to unpredictable seasons, while some women said that they are supplementing household income.” As one respondent explained: “The floods have taught us that we need to solve our own problems.”
The study found that those communities that felt informed about their environment were best able to cope with extreme weather. However, those without access to resources, relevant information or community support said that they felt helpless. The Climate Asia Report has come up with a range of ideas on how to help communicate climate change issues: “With very high levels of TV viewership and rising mobile phone use, there are opportunities to provide these audiences with information on coping with resource shortages and seasonal changes through drama serials, discussion shows and SMS alerts.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2014.
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While Pakistan is already struggling with a potential existential threat—the scourge of terrorism—it’s currently siting on an even bigger ticking time bomb.
Ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey measuring perceptions of different international issues (such as global climate change, global economic instability, and Islamic State). In Pakistan, only 25 percent of respondents said they were “very concerned” about the threats posed by global climate change. For a comparison, in neighboring India, 73 percent reported being “very concerned” about climate change.
Yet research from the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index, or ND-GAIN, categorizes Pakistan as “very vulnerable to climate change and ill-prepared to deal with its impact.” And a recent analysis in Foreign Policyargued that climate change posed an even bigger threat to Pakistan than terrorism.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
It is pertinent to probe into what the looming threat of global climate change has in store for Pakistan. How vulnerable is Pakistan vulnerable and—most importantly—how ready is it?.
As per LEAD Pakistan, an environmental and development organization, climate change will bring Pakistan multifarious challenges. The melting of glaciers is feeding into frequent floods, putting the coastal areas at high risk, while the availability of fresh water is projected to decrease over the long term due to the same melting glaciers. Climate change could also lead to an enormous decrease in crop yields, affecting Pakistan’s agriculture-dependent economy. Diseases primarily associated with floods and droughts are expected to rise and ultimately the displacement of people and migration patterns will take a heavy toll on Pakistan in many ways.
Pakistan is already suffering. More than 60 lives were claimed recently by what was termed an “unusual weather system” in northern Pakistan—heavy rain causing flash floods and landslides. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey, Pakistan lost a total of 3,072 lives and $16 billion to the floods in 2010, 2011, and 2012; as a result, the country’s economic growth has been severely affected.
What harsh climatic conditions have done in many areas of Sindh province is already a story of despair. And who can forget the lethal heat wave in Karachi last year, which claimed over 1,200 lives? This year again, warnings have been issued as the temperature is likely to reach 40 degree Celsius.
The United Nations predicts Pakistan’s population will surge past 300 million people by 2050. Now read that together with a projected shortage of food, massive flash floods, tropical diseases, and unbearable rise in temperature. This is a huge calamity in waiting—and it is not very far away.
Meanwhile, let’s also not forget the heavy toll climate change has taken on the ecosystems, including marine and fresh water habitats. Wildlife is under threat as well.
As public opinion data reinforces, it is essential that Pakistan start a public discourse on the issue in order to spread awareness first. Then concrete measures should be taken in order to better equip the country for disaster prevention, preparedness, and management.
The building of new dams, barrages, and reservoirs in order to store excess water is very important. Pakistan receives around 144 million acre feet (MAF) of water from different sources, but its storage capacity is only 12.6 MAF. Tree planting and introduction of flood-resilient crops are two more areas where there is a lot of work to do.
Yet Pakistan does not seem to care about climate change at all, which is more problematic than everything else. A public discourse on climate change, its hazards, and the measures to be taken has not even started in Pakistan as yet. Steps to cope with climate change will only follow afterwards.
Many in the country have yet to establish if climate change is real and, most importantly, if it is caused by humans. And far from being ready to tackle the imminent dangers of climate change, Pakistan has yet to diagnose the problem and prioritize it in her national agenda. There is a lot of catching up to do and time is growing short.
Mahboob Mohsin is a political science graduate from Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan. He currently works as a research analyst at the country head office of Channel 24 News in Lahore.