Climate change: Regional approach, peace urged to meet challenges

Published: January 22, 2013

“Around 500 million people in South Asia live on the coastal belt and their livelihoods will be destroyed if the sea levels rise,” says Senator Hussain. PHOTO: PPI/FILE

ISLAMABAD: 

Politicians and experts called for regional approach and peace initiatives to meet the growing threats to national security from climate change.

“Around 500 million people in South Asia live on the coastal belt and their livelihoods will be destroyed if the sea levels rise,” Senator Mushahid Hussain said while moderating a seminar.

He said water has already emerged as a major source of tension between India and Pakistan, and it is also a cause of strife between Pakistan’s provinces.

A regional approach is needed to deal with the impact of climate change in South Asia.

He said environmental concerns have never received political ownership in Pakistan, but promised he would try to make climate change a part of the National Security Strategy and spur a debate on it in Parliament.

“If water scarcity increases due to climate change, interprovincial harmony would be further affected.”

Climate change could pose a serious threat to national security because of its adverse impact on socioeconomic conditions, said Shakeel Ahmad Ramay, a researcher at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) Climate Change Study Centre.

He was giving a lecture on climate change an national security at SDPI on Monday. “Climate change is happening and it will put more pressure on the already scarce resources in the country,” said Ramay. “People will be fighting over water in the future.”

Climate change has led to an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather conditions, especially natural disasters, which would affect people’s livelihoods and multiply existing threats such as food, water and energy.

Ramay said that according to the Food Security report for 2009, prepared by SDPI, 48.7% of the population was food insecure. He said the number is estimated to have grown by 10% immediately after the 2010 floods.

“Climate change will further affect productivity, with an estimated 2.5 to 5% reduction in food production by 2030,” Ramay said.

The degrading conditions could create national security problems, he said.

Ramay said the most food insecure districts in Pakistan — including Dera Bugti  and Upper Dir — are also the most “troubled” districts in terms of violence and conflict. But correlation does not prove causation, and Ramay acknowledged that the conflicts in these areas may be the cause of food insecurity, rather than the effect.

Ramay gave the example of the Siachen glacier to show that security intervention may also result in climate change. The glacial melt has been exacerbated by black carbon emissions from trucks, helicopters and cooking done for military outposts on Siachen.

The Gyari avalanche in 2012, which took the lives of 139 Pakistani soldiers, is a painful reminder of the impact of climate change.

Shafqat Kakakhel, an SDPI board member and former deputy executive director of the UN Environment Programme, gave a supplementary note to Ramay’s presentation. He said Pakistan needs a governance revolution to deal with water scarcity and climate change.

Kakakhel said Pakistan has always maintained a high profile in the international community regarding climate change, but has little to show on this front at home.

He said the government has recently come up with a policy framework with 120 recommendations, but “the biggest challenge is to translate it into action plans.” He urged the need for top government officials to intervene and involve the private sector for financial assistance in dealing with climate change.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2013. 

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