As the sea level is rapidly rising and protective mangroves at Pakistan’s coast are disappearing, we must prepare for disasters such as the tsunami in Japan, which is a wake-up call, local experts have urged.
“Climate change and environmental degradation in the country is evident from the increased frequency of earthquakes we experience today,” said Arshad Abbasi, a water expert from the Sustainable Development Policy Institute. Globally, earthquakes of over 3 on the Richter Scale have increased, for example.
In Pakistan, we need to worry about rising sea levels caused by melting glaciers and ocean warming. The former contributes 70 per cent while the latter contributes 30 per cent to rising sea levels. “The greater the sea level, the greater will be the threat of a tsunami,” Abbasi explained.
Over the past 30 years, Siachen and other Himalayan glaciers have been melting rapidly due to the military presence of India and Pakistan. Since then, the glacier has been retreating three dimensionally - thinning vertically as well as horizontally - at an estimated 100 metres per year, he added.
Abbasi recommended a UN intervention as he believed the threat is pertinent to other countries besides Pakistan. He pointed out that the recent disposal of 49 million acre feet of floodwater into the sea has also increased its level and Pakistan needed to build reservoirs.
Pakistan has been relatively prone to cyclones and tsunamis but changing environmental factors can neutralise this immunity, said Muhammad Tahir Qureshi, who is a senior adviser at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) centre in Karachi. All civilised countries have warning systems that Pakistan also needs to copy, he suggested.
Mangroves are the only natural shield and they, too, are depleting, he said. “This makes coastal communities highly vulnerable,” he added. Since our National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) does not train the inhabitants of coastal areas and lacks trained doctors and rescuers, he feared severe destruction in case of a calamity.
Draft in fire and safety policy
A final draft of the National Fire and Safety Police was developed by more than 500 professionals and submitted to the NDMA, according to Fire and Safety Association of Pakistan’s Sr Marine Captain Suleman Shah Mahtab.
This policy proposes the most economical and practical solutions to protect the lives and properties of people in case of a disaster. The downside is that bureaucratic red tape inside the authority has delayed it from being implemented. Copies of the draft were sent to the president and the prime minister but to no avail, he added.
Someone needs to be urge the federal government to look after the safety of Pakistanis and protect them against calamities, emergencies and natural disasters, he added. “[We should] not leave the fate of the nation to one inefficient and mismanaged authority [NDMA],” said his statement. The government needs to accept and ratify the final draft of the National Fire and Safety Policy 2010 and ratification by the parliament to become the first National Fire Rescue and Emergency/Disaster Management Act of Pakistan”.
With additional input from PPI
Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2011.