What Pakistan was busy doing this World Environment Day

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Everything except focusing on the environment

 

 

From Altaf Hussain’s inability of using the tried and tested bori system to the PTA swallowing progressive pages on Facebook whole, we gave screen time and print space to just about every issue possible except the environment.

For those of you that are wondering, 2014’s World Environment Day was held on 5th June. So while several nations around the world were busy holding conferences, building strategies, planting trees, we were doing nothing except possibly worrying about the same things that have plagued us for countless years. The little that we did manage to do barely got any real attention. However, as innocuous a problem as it may seem, the environment is about to turn around and slap the nation silly if it doesn’t sober up.

Barbados played host to the “Raise our voice, not the sea level” theme this year. Not only did we manage to not really raise our voices as such, we also failed to listen to those that tried. Pakistan’s recent run-ins with Mother Nature should be treated as omens of harsh times to come. From crippling droughts that killed plenty, to ravaging floods that have become an annual event, ignoring the environment is already hurting the country.

Each year Pakistan’s sea level rises around 1.1 millimetres. Coastal erosion, flooding on coastal plains and wetlands, loss of habitats for birds, fish and other wildlife, salinisation of soils and aquifers, are only some of the problems that will have to be dealt with. If the current trends continue then the coastal lines will only get worse. It is important that climate resilient infrastructure be put into place along the coastal areas in the country. These areas have tremendous potential for wind power that could be tapped into but is generally overlooked.

Barbados played host to the “Raise our voice, not the sea level” theme this year. Not only did we manage to not really raise our voices as such, we also failed to listen to those that tried. Pakistan’s recent run-ins with Mother Nature should be treated as omens of harsh times to come. From crippling droughts that killed plenty, to ravaging floods that have become an annual event, ignoring the environment is already hurting the country.

Pakistan’s mangroves maybe one of the largest in the world but are they not fully utilised for all their potential. Their ecological significance fails to dawn upon the people of the country. Not only can these semi-arid patches help coastal communities, they are also extremely useful in battling harsh climatic conditions. Instead of harnessing their power we’ve used them for commercial purposes. So the next time a cyclone or flood hits this area there won’t be as many mangrove forests standing in its way.

It falls on deaf ears

How can a country that relies so much on agriculture ignore the environment anyway? Pakistan is currently on the 135th position when it comes to carbon emissions, which means that it isn’t contributing all that much to global warming and/or climate change. But in a grand twist of events, studies from Columbia and Yale show that the country is also ironically at the 120th position on the Environmental Performance Index. Add to that the fact that the Environmental Vulnerability Index currently gave the country a score of 373 which basically means it’s extremely vulnerable to climate change. The 2014 Global Climate Risk Index also mentions Pakistan as the third most affected country in a long list of nations that are battling climate change and environmental issues.

So where is it going wrong? Pakistan, it would appear, is plagued with so many problems that it has no idea how climate change and environmental degradation can balloon into a catastrophe. While it is true that it is fast destroying its own natural resources with no regard for the future, there’s no real strategy in place for recovery either. During the last government the National Climate Change Policy was introduced. It was both lauded and appreciated for what it aimed to do. That policy has since been shelved, but even before that happened it was pointed out by many experts that the implementation of the policy was a farfetched idea. There was a grand divorce between theory and practical.

To add to the blow in the current budget of 2014-15, the Climate Change Division which only had about Rs58 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year (which was a 50% reduction from Rs135 million during 2012-13), that budget has been chopped down to Rs25 million.

Do it for the money

Pakistan is stuck in a unique paradox wherein it’s either unsuccessfully tackling a flood or struggling against a drought. But with each calamity it faces it gets pushed further back into regression. If for nothing else, Pakistan has to take heed of environmental issues because of the social and economic losses it incurs. For instance, the 2010 super floods alone resulted in a loss of over 5.3 million jobs, 45 major bridges were destroyed along with several important roads. Around 200,000 acres of farmland stood ruined (which is no small problem for an agriculture based nation). Inundated croplands account for a massive $2.8 billion in losses.

People thought the Taliban were bad, they have a much bigger problem to tackle and they don’t even see it. While the Taliban can cause all kinds of carnage and loss of human life, even they can’t match the force that is a natural disaster, a force that can literally alter the face of the country.

Each time the country suffers the wrath of a flood it not only has to deal with displaced people but also the agricultural resources that are literally swept away. The burden of dealing with IDPs then falls onto larger cities like Karachi or Lahore, which cannot sustain or support this influx.

If measures are not set into place where such problems can be successfully tackled then the situation will only worsen overtime.

Pakistanis are the problem

The Climate Asia Report by the BBC outlined some interesting facts. To start with, communities who were aware of how to deal with environmental changes were able to band together and put their lives back together after a disaster hit. Communities that had no idea what was happening to the climate and how to deal with it weren’t as lucky, for obvious reasons. Only a quarter of Pakistanis actually know what climate change even is. That is, according to the report, the lowest percentage in all of Asia. While people in urban areas had a slightly better idea of what concept entailed, people in rural areas weren’t exactly sure of what it means and why it was even important to begin with. This points to the fact that there is a dire need to educate people in not just a few areas but all over Pakistan.

This year, however, real heat only showed up with the advent of June. Many people are seeing this as a blessing from God, a few more days of respite before the heat really kicks in, instead of seeing it for what it really is: climate change at its worst.

People thought the Taliban were bad, they have a much bigger problem to tackle and they don’t even see it. While the Taliban can cause all kinds of carnage and loss of human life, even they can’t match the force that is a natural disaster, a force that can literally alter the face of the country.

It doesn’t help that any kind of weather related crisis or anomaly is seen as a divine act, rather than scrutinised in terms of what it really is. For instance, Lahore is host to tremendous heat and blistering weather as early as April. There’s nothing all that odd about the temperatures settling well above 40 degrees. This year, however, real heat only showed up with the advent of June. Many people are seeing this as a blessing from God, a few more days of respite before the heat really kicks in, instead of seeing it for what it really is: climate change at its worst.

Several media outlets have live feeds for the developing story on Altaf Hussain but made not a peep about anything related to the environment. Between our perpetual crises we have to find a way to make environmental issues a part of our overall puzzle. Otherwise, we’re destined for disaster, with a ribbon on top.

1 COMMENT

  1. Rulers and politicians are absolutely ignore priority related problem of environment protection.Environment hazards effect the human resourse development which slow down progress of every sector Pakistan.

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