How to tackle the most daunting challenge
As a non-traditional security threat, climate change has continued to pose daunting challenges to Pakistan. The pressing issue of global warming jeopardizes a country’s future economic stability and security. The devastating floods of 2010 and 2011 and the extreme heatwave of 2015 have indicated that the state should brace itself for more natural calamities like torrential rains and severe heatwaves in summers.
Though it contributes little to global greenhouse gases, Pakistan is still among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change as indicated by the Global Climate Risk Index developed by Germanwatch. On account of the excessive combustion of fossil fuels – in cars and factories and during electricity production – massive deforestation and the uncontrolled burning of crops, the amount of emissions is likely to increase. The country’s emissions are expected to increase from 405 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide to over 1,603 metric tonnes in the next 15 years.
Pakistan has been severely hit by climate change in recent years. The year 2017 broke all records when the temperature of Turbat in Balochistan reached a staggering 54 degrees centigrade on May 28. Claire Nullis, the WMO spokeswoman, declared Turbat to be the hottest place on earth in summer. “[T]he hottest place on Earth appears to be the town of Turbat in southwestern Pakistan, which reported a temperature of 54 degrees Celsius in May,” she said. Moreover, the increasing temperature of Turbat has also been predicted as the hottest temperature ever recorded in Asia, and the fourth highest in the world.
If a country’s temperature rises steadily, it is likely to face extreme weather conditions over some years. Over the past two decades, Pakistan has suffered from over 130 climate change-induced events of floods, droughts and heatwaves. Despite repeated warnings, the state has been largely unprepared to tackle the adverse impacts of the slow warming of the world’s temperature. The government’s lethargy is reflective of an entrenched cycle of bad governance and a dismal institutional failure embedded in the country’s political structure.
On account of climate change, the country has experienced some of the warmest summers in its history. As per a recent report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the annual average temperature in Pakistan has risen by around 0.5 degrees Celsius over the last five years, with the number of heatwave days per year increasing about five-fold in the last three decades. The constant increase in temperature will effect scorching summers, accelerate rise in the sea level, expedite the melting of glaciers, produce intense heatwaves, trigger the migration of animals and increase the risk of tropical storms near the coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan in the future.
The country has also experienced a slight increase in its annual precipitation levels since 1970. The increasing rate of precipitation often causes a heavy downpour during the monsoons; flooding large swathes of agricultural lands and inundating several settlements, especially along the River Indus. With its sagging economy, the country’s National Disaster Management Authority seems to be unable to quickly respond to heavy rains and the resulting flash floods. Furthermore, the metropolitan corporations are ill-prepared to effectively deal with downpours as was witnessed in Karachi last summer when torrential rains battered the city.
The changing temperatures across the world have continued to create a range of economic and security issues for Pakistan also. First, the devastating impact of the gradual rise in the world’s temperature has slowly exacerbated the already acute water scarcity faced by Pakistan. The country’s per capita water availability has considerably decreased from 1,500 cubic metres at the time of independence to 1,017 cubic metres at present. Some international organizations have warned Pakistan, time and again, that it will face droughts in the next 10 to 40 years due to the rising global temperatures.
According to IMF, Pakistan’s water requirement is projected to reach 274 million cubic acre-feet (MAF) by 2025 while the estimated supply will remain stagnant at 191 MAF. The water scarcity will severely impact agricultural productivity, increase the risk of waterborne diseases and food insecurity, and may result in protests across the country. So far, the government has displayed its outright indifference to building water reservoirs to store, for future use, the excessive water produced by the melting of glaciers and excessive monsoon rains. What should not be forgotten is that the water crisis in Pakistan could also escalate India-Pakistan hostilities and create further friction in the near future.
Second, climate change has also brought about an adverse impact on the country’s $300 billion economy. As per a recent study conducted by the UNDP, Pakistan is currently spending over eight percent of its national budget on mitigating the calamitous effects of climate change. Studies undertaken by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) indicate that extreme climate events between 1994 and 2013 have caused an average annual economic loss of approximately $4 billion. Floods between 2010 and 2014 have caused financial losses to the tune of $18 billion with 38.12 million people affected, 3.45 million houses damaged and 10.63 million acres of standing crops destroyed.
Third, as a littoral country, Pakistan has been menacingly grappled with a gradual rise in the sea level. When the sea level rises, the destruction of a large number of houses located near the seashore is highly likely. According to the ADB, the sea level along the Karachi coast has risen nearly 10 centimetres over the last century, devouring thousands of hectares of coastal lands. The gradual melting of the country’s glaciers has contributed to this ominous rise. What is more alarming is that Pakistan’s glaciers are fast depleting, that is, at a rate of between 30 metres and 50 metres annually, due to global warming. If the government does not build adequate dams to store water from melting glaciers and fails to construct concrete protection walls along seashores of its coastal areas, the sea level will continue to gradually rise and erode the coastal lands.
Fourth, climate change is also likely to cause contagious diseases owing to air and water pollution. Such pollution could raise the risk of attacks of asthma and other respiratory ailments. There are already over 14 million Pakistanis who suffer from asthma and the incidence of this disease is increasing by about 30 percent every year. A large segment of the country’s population is at risk of contracting vector-borne diseases also. The government has no feasible plans to stop the spread of these diseases.
Lastly, climate change is also responsible for the displacement and death of a large number of people in Pakistan. The flash floods of 2010 created some 20 million climate refugees in the country – 10 percent of the total global estimate of 200 million climate refugees expected by 2050. These floods brought about around 1,781 deaths and destroyed over 1.89 million homes. Moreover, the 2011 floods also adversely affected the country, rendering 5.3 million people homeless and destroying 1.2 million homes in Sindh and inundating 1.7 million acres of arable land.
Pakistan cannot resolve the issue of climate change on its own; however, it can convince the international community to fund the country in terms of financing the efforts on mitigation of catastrophic impacts of global warming. The government should use adept diplomacy to access the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The GCF amounts to $10 billion. Of this, $2 billion has already been allocated to 43 projects globally to increase climate-change resilience for 125 million people in Africa and the Asia-Pacific states.
The world community does not trust Pakistan anymore because of the country’s protracted crisis of bad governance, rampant corruption and a lack of efficiency and transparency. So, the government should eliminate corruption and resolve the leadership crisis at the earliest.
The government must also expand the capacity of the Rescue 1122 and the NDMA so that they can promptly respond to extreme disasters. The provinces should coordinate with the federal government with respect to effectively dealing with the major causes and severe consequences of climate change.