Pakistan is one of the 10 most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. Between 1998 and 2018, according to the Global Climate Risk Index, the country is estimated to have lost nearly 10,000 lives to climate-related disasters and suffered losses amounting to about $4 billion from 152 extreme weather events in that period. Moreover, analysts have estimated Pakistan’s climate migrants over the past decade at around 30 million people. Climate scientists say Pakistan is especially vulnerable to wild weather and other effects of climate change including sea intrusion, unusual rain patterns, glacial melting, rising temperatures as a result of global warming and droughts.
Plague after plague have been brought about due to temperature increases in rural areas. Last year, Pakistan was accustomed to devastating locust infestation in about nearly 30 years. This resulted in losses of $2.5 billion that destroyed entire harvests resulting in government calling for a national emergency.
Previous year, torrential rainfall wreaked havoc claiming 100 lives while also causing widespread property and infrastructural damage. Karachi, the port city, faced catastrophic damage where even the previously (relatively) untouched residential and commercial areas, were flooded.
These alarming facts are reason enough for the government, relevant authorities and people in general to take climate change and its consequences seriously.
Climate change has been catastrophic for the world over without discrimination (it is coming for us all), however, its effects discriminate along class lines. For example, last year Karachi saw record-breaking destructive rainfall that resulted in urban flooding and caused a collapse of its infrastructure as mentioned above.
Among the communities most affected by the rainfall were the residents of Gujja Naala, many of whom saw their entire homes getting submerged. In response to public anger towards (mis) handling of the situation post-rainfall and the devastating impact it had on the entire city, the government put the blame on people living along the drains calling them ‘encroachers’ and therefore their homes being qualified for demolitions even though the root cause of the flooding was due to solid waste clogging the drains.
After demolitions, these already marginalized people become homeless hence being subjected to double exploitation; first due to extreme weather conditions and second because of the violence inflicted on them in the form of anti-encroachment drive. This is one of the many instances where climate change has negatively affected the urban poor.
The wealthy as well as middle-income households can always shift from climate-vulnerable areas which is a luxury not enjoyed by the downtrodden segments of the society. The rich might buy generators for electricity, pay for water tanks and rely on expensive hospitals, but the poor will continue to be devastated. This could also be seen as a climate war between the large industrial superpowers, financial predators that have polluted and poisoned the planet for profit, and the poor, who have done the least damage but will pay for all of the consequences.
In light of the catastrophe and damage climate change is causing, the government must take strict measures. The preventive actions may include carrying out reforestation and afforestation programs as well as engage public in tree plantation drives throughout the country, apart from the billion-tree tsunami campaign.
The government must consult and engage with local communities to come up with informed and realistic solutions that benefit the locals holistically.
Small dams need to be constructed, specifically in Thar, to store rainwater and proper waste management system needs to be created for mountainous areas since disposing waste in rivers and burning it contributes towards carbon deposition on glaciers which speeds up glacial melting. Moreover, burying waste underground is detrimental as it may resurface during natural disasters causing great risk to the environment.
Awareness campaign through print and electronic media and demonstrations such as the Climate March should be supported and planned in order to lobby around climate change domestically and in coordination with global forces working for climate-related issues.
Furthermore, there is a need to switch to renewable sources such as solar energy and hydropower which would provide clean and cheap yet uninterrupted energy. The government also needs to come up with a proactive approach to natural disasters, caused due to climate change, by pre-empting weather conditions and ecological changes. For this to happen, a strategy should be formulated beforehand. Hence, people must be warned through a warning system so they may evacuate in case of rising temperatures or eminent flooding.
Lastly, government needs to mainstream climate change as a policy and development agenda as a priority.
Apart from the aforementioned governmental measures, populace in general could contribute to mitigating climate change on a personal basis by saving energy, piling up plates with excess food, volunteer in organizations working for climate change, spreading awareness through print and electronic media and creating campaigns in schools and educational institutions for inculcating a sense of responsibility towards the environment and its preservation.
Climate change challenges need to be countered through an informed and holistic strategy instead of being taken lightly by the powers that be, since the ecological disbalance could reach the rural and urban areas on a wider scale than what we experience today with floods, heatwaves, rise in sea-level and droughts if left unattended.