Many security analysts and environmental experts have been pointing out how climate change poses a more serious threat to the stability of Pakistan than terrorism. Climate change has also been dubbed a ‘threat multiplier’, which can aggravate existing stresses in society such as poverty, ethnic strife, and political unrest to an extent that sparks major unrest. All these stresses are already a problem for Pakistan.
There is ample evidence of climate change fuelling violence in major conflict zones around the word today. Researchers have connected the upheavals of the Arab Spring and the Syrian civil war to lingering droughts that drove up food prices and added fuel to the region’s simmering social discontent. A lingering drought has also been identified as a catalyst for the recent political turmoil witnessed in Iran.
The impact of rising populations combined with the pressures being exerted by climate threats make for a perturbing combination. Pakistan is now home to nearly 208 million people. This ever-increasing number of people trying to make a living with very limited resources at their disposal, being hit by unpredictable climate disasters, can create explosive circumstances.
Consider, for example, how our unsustainable rate of population growth and irresponsible water usage policies have already severely reduced freshwater availability. Climate change in the form of unpredictable rainfall patterns, drought and the threat being posed to the Himalayan glaciers which feed our rivers pose major challenges. Such problems in turn pose the risk of furthering social friction based on the competition for ever-diminishing resources.
Water sharing is already a source of contention in our relations with India, and the situation can become more politicised as water scarcity becomes more serious. Future water shortages can also exacerbate inter-provincial rivalries, and add to the burden on poorer households, especially women and girls within them, who are primarily tasked with the burden of procuring water for daily household consumption.
As the impact of global warming continues to unfold, the socio-political and economic consequences of these impacts will worsen. The Global Climate Risk Index 2018 released by a German think tank has ranked Pakistan the seventh country most vulnerable to severe climate change.
Over the past 20 years, we have seen unprecedented flooding events, prolonged droughts and heatwaves. The super floods of 2010 placed Pakistan on the top slot among the countries most affected by climate change as it lost an estimated $25.3 billion, in addition to causing havoc on the lives of multitudes of marginalised rural communities across the length and breadth of the country.
The per-capita carbon emissions in developing countries like our own are still not as severe as those of major industrialised powers, but the impacts of climate change which are wreaking indiscriminate havoc around the world. However, we have little capacity to contend with these threats, since climate mitigation efforts have not received the attention they deserve. Besides ongoing deforestation, pollution and a widespread indifference towards conservation of our environment, there is also heavy domestic investments in the use of coal to meet our energy needs.
Boosting the country’s climate resilience against exacerbating impacts of climate change, including recurring droughts and floods, shifting rainfall patterns, glacial melt, and depleting river flows, is a Herculean task. While some donor agencies and line departments are working on this issue but that is not enough.
We need much better coordinated efforts involving donor agencies, federal ministries, provincial and district departments. These efforts need to result in effective measures for coping with climate risks through adaptation and mitigation efforts in the agriculture, water, energy and health sectors. Unless we see evidence of such efforts being put into tangible effect, varied climate changes will provide ample opportunity to further myopic and insidious agendas, and add to the restiveness and social friction we are already witnessing across the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 16th, 2018.
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