By Raashid Wali Janjua
Climate change and its concomitant natural disasters pose a clear danger to national security in the present era of the hyper-utilisation of natural resources in the unbridled pursuit of industrial development.
The developed industrialised haves – having appropriated the fruits of development – are not ready to render a yeoman’s service to the environment through ‘carbon sacrifice’ despite offering anodyne sops to the agitated global community of environment conservationists. China, India, and several East Asian nations view climate control efforts through carbon emission caps as attempts by the developed north to stymie the growth of industrial aspirants. The devastating impact of global warming has already popped out of jeremiad fiction books and movies and assumed the center stage of human existence.
A foretaste of the devastation wrought natural disasters induced by climate change was experienced by the strongest and the richest country in the world in 2005, in the shape of Hurricane Katrina. The natural disaster destroyed most of New Orleans, causing a loss of $80 billion, killing 1,800 people and displacing 270,000 others. The American populace watched the scenes of devastation and the wrath of nature in bewilderment as more than 72,000 troops grappled with the rescue and rehabilitation operation in what looked like a third world humanitarian disaster relief operation. After the harrowing experience, the US national security establishment woke up to the sobering realisation of securitising the climate-induced natural disasters. According to Joshua W Busby, the US National Security Strategy directed the Department of Defence in 2006 to plan for “deadly pandemics and other natural disasters that can produce WMD-like effects”.
Climate change and ensuing natural disasters threaten national cohesion and stability of densely populated nations with internal politico-economic cleavages, such as Indonesia and Bangladesh. In Indonesia, the weak handling of the situation after the 2004 tsunami that devastated Aceh, fueled anti-government feelings, resulting in the destabilisation of the region. In Bangladesh, the tardy disaster relief response by West Pakistan in 1971 fuelled separatism. Presently, 46 percent of the Bangladesh’s population lives in low-elevation areas near the sea with many living in settlements less than five metres above the sea level. With a population of 12.6 million, Dhaka is one of the most vulnerable cities where a tsunami could cause millions of deaths and send many people into exile. Most of the Sub-Saharan countries, such as Ethiopia, Somalia, and the Darfur region of Sudan are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In these areas, the governments’ capacity to tackle climate-induced famines, droughts, disease, and floods is extremely limited.
Pakistan today is confronted with some serious climate change threats due to global warming, changes in the ocean current patterns, delayed monsoons, floods, heat waves, and lately, droughts. The impact of these factors on human security – especially food security – makes climate change one of the most potent threats to our national security. With one of the most rapidly increasing populations in the world, India and Pakistan are making heavy demands on the already dwindling fresh water resources in the Subcontinent. The possibilities of water wars as a result of the upper riparian’s (India) water heist presents a frightening scenario for one of the most heavily nuclear armed regions of the world. It is time both countries took stock of their real threats and stopped tilting at the windmills of self-manufactured political threats. Together, India and Pakistan need to tame the demons which are challenging the very survival of the human race in South Asia due to global warming and its deleterious weather effects.
Let us take stock of the threats of climate change confronting us and our current response. Pakistan is confronted with threats such as flash floods, glacial lakes outbursts and famines – especially in Thar and Balochistan. Droughts, freakish rainfall, heat waves, and rising sea levels are also prevalent in the country. These natural phenomena are being facilitated by man-made assaults on the environment. Massive deforestation and mangrove destruction is causing soil erosion, landslides, the silting up of water reservoirs, and the destruction of the coastal ecosystem. Our mangrove forest cover – the first line of defence against sea intrusion – was 400,000 hectares in 1945 and has shrunk to 70,000 hectares, exposing our coast to sea intrusion and soil erosion. Port Qasim’s coal-based energy projects have displaced a sizeable segment of our coastal population and destroyed valuable mangroves, rendering our coast more vulnerable to floods and tsunamis.
An IMF study shows that Pakistan as the third most water-stressed country in the world with a per capita water availability of 1,017 cubic metres. At the time of independence, Pakistan’s per capita water availability was around 5,600 cubic metres, which put us in the category of water-abundant countries. From being water-abundant to water-stressed, it has been a sorry saga of neglect and myopia for Pakistan. After Tarbela, our failure to construct any big reservoir has resulted in the present water scarcity. According to the World Resources Institute, Pakistan has the lowest water withdrawal to supply ratio – 80 percent among South Asian countries, including Afghanistan and Bangladesh. India, with which we compete in all spheres, has 33 percent of its water supply stored in reservoirs while we have only managed to store a paltry nine percent. With some 36 million acre-feet (MAF) water lost to the sea annually, Pakistan – based on population projections – will find itself in a deficit of 151 MAF by the year 2025.
Pakistan needs to curtail the unsustainably high use of water due to water-intensive crops. These include sugarcane, which is mostly controlled by a politically influential sugar industry lobby. With more water being pumped from the aquifers than is being recharged, Pakistan confronts the threats of desertification and food insecurity in the future. The impact of delayed winters and heat waves in the summer due to changes in global weather is also wreaking havoc on our cropping patterns, especially in rain-fed (barani) areas. A heat wave in Russia in 2010 resulted in 40 percent reduction in grain production. We should also be ready for such eventualities as with the increasing population, the dwindling water resources, the increased frequency of floods, and the freakish heat waves, our human security is seriously imperiled.
It is time we jettisoned our military-centric view of the national security and started paying more attention to the real threats that imperil our national security in the shape of environmental destruction and natural calamities. It is time India and Pakistan buried the resource-guzzling hatchet of the nuclear and conventional arms race and took the raging bull of climate threat by its horns. The time has come for a Track-II initiative between both countries for joint water resource conservation, watershed management, and environment control.
The writer is a PhD scholar at Nust.