At the tail end of the harshest winter in this region of the last 20 years, the issue of global warming appears farcical to the majority of the population –– if, that is, they even bother to consider the subject at all. Hard on the heels of a series of massive avalanches, out-rightly killing or burying alive at least 200 people in the Badakshan province of Afghanistan, warnings about the lack of winter snowfall leading to severe drought conditions are being taken with a pinch of salt. And, when combined with meteorological forecasts predicting, yet, more summer monsoon flooding in Pakistan, water shortages are the last thing on everyone’s minds, including the government’s. The truth of the matter, however, is very different.
Climate change, to use a term far more applicable than the now old-fashioned ‘global warming’, does not mean that global temperatures are undergoing a steady and uninterrupted rise on a year-round basis: climate change ‘patterns’, instead of being predictable, are now completely unpredictable in the long-term and the number of ‘extreme weather events’, such as storms/hurricanes/tornadoes, drought and flooding have already escalated to a frightening point and hardly a month goes by without some kind of large-scale, climate change related disaster occurring somewhere in the world.
Scientists and climatologists forecast that climate extremes will be responsible for cutting agricultural production across Africa by a staggering 50 per cent over the next 38 years, if not sooner, and that this crippling scenario is liable to be replicated in many other countries, including Pakistan –– where approximately 54 per cent of the 180 million population are already suffering from malnutrition.
With this winter’s unprecedented snowfall, spring melt will rapidly top-up rivers and dams once the thaw really sets in. But, as is bound to happen in countries without adequate water storage facilities, most of this precious freshwater will simply be lost as it races away downstream, bearing potential flooding on its crest. The spectre of small-scale spring flooding followed by a repeat of major summer floods, once the monsoon kicks in, should, by anyone’s estimation, have the Pakistani government rushing to churn out at least some emergency measures. Yet, as always, this is definitely not the case.
The horrendous summer monsoon flooding of 2010 submerged 796,093 sq km, or one-fifth of the land area of Pakistan and directly affected 20 million people –– many of whom had not recovered by the time that summer 2011 flooding inundated 4 million acres of croplands in Sindh and Balochistan, displacing another 5.4 million people in the process. With ongoing, largely inadequate, relief efforts highly unlikely to be completed before the area is submerged yet again, it is way past the time that the government acts in the long-term interests of the population at large, by instigating serious flood prevention measures via the construction of appropriate water storage facilities. This does not entail large dams, but a series of small ones, plus reservoirs and ponds for the dual purpose of flood prevention and drought alleviation. If left uncatered for, these inadequacies will, in the very near future, bring an increasingly hungry country to its knees.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2012.
More in OpinionOf war crimes and whistle-blowers