The recent floods that have wreaked havoc in various parts of the country should come as no surprise due to the increasing frequency of unpredictable weather patterns and Pakistan’s inability to deal with them.
We remain fixated on issues of national security and domestic politics, and climate change and the resulting water crisis remain Pakistan’s most threatening issue. The floods of previous years and the drought in Thar (a few months ago) testify to the growing unpredictability of the weather and ineffective management of the government.
Despite efforts to develop the service sector, we remain predominantly an agrarian economy; therefore, the effect of climate change has massive implications for us. According to estimates, just the 2010 floods alone cost Pakistan $10billion, with the annual cost of environmental degradation swelling up to $5.2billion annually. These staggering figures are left unattended, either due to sheer ignorance or politicisation of the matter that restricts any substantive development from occurring.
With around 300 people already dead and thousands displaced, the authorities once again find themselves dumbfounded and continue to point fingers at one another. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Federal Flood Commission (FFC), among other bodies, continue to be inefficient due to the lack of political-will showed by the government to work out a cohesive disaster management plan. Post crisis management is also lacking, and as witnessed before, the civil government will probably require substantial assistance from the armed forces to be able to assist those affected.
In March, 2013, the previous government managed to introduce the National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) with the intention of steering Pakistan towards more sustainable development. However, the policy was shelved by the current government, who also demoted the Ministry of Climate Change to a Division and cut down its budget. For a government claiming to be focused on economic and social development, we are yet to see any solid path being laid to deal with climate change.
Despite the lack of government initiatives, Pakistan ranks second only to China among seven Asian countries that are taking communal and individual steps to counter climate change, according to the Climate Asia report. However, the report also highlighted the fact that up to 50% of the respondents of the survey had never heard about climate change, while a significant other portion had heard of it but did not have sufficient information about it. Creating awareness needs to be the first step for the government, as that would allow more effective action to be taken at the micro level.
The second step by the government needs to be the formulation of a comprehensive framework that incorporates all the stakeholders. Civil society and corporations should be included in this process so that the implementation of the framework is widespread and efficient.
Rather than jumping to policies, such as having a carbon-tax, the government should try and focus on giving incentives to corporations to cut down on emissions and should have regular checks and balances. This framework should also streamline the disaster management and river management authorities, allow them to bypass the cumbersome bureaucratic process and grant them sufficient funds to improve water management. Taking and enforcing such measures would show commitment and will be helpful in gaining international monetary and technical support.
The third step should be to boost regional cooperation for this issue, as countries like India and Bangladesh are also drastically impacted by climate change. Since multilateral plans, such as Agenda 21 and the Kyoto Protocol, have failed there needs to be greater regional efforts to counter this issue collectively. This can include the sharing of technical assistance, and can also help the countries bridge the gap on other political issues.
We can use the floods as another excuse to heap pressure on the current government, but the truth is that this is a crisis that has been building for decades and will continue to cause destruction for years to come. As Dale Jamieson says in his book Reason in a Dark Time, climate change is already here; the era of prevention is over, now we have to find ways to mitigate the damage.
United Nations (UN) issued warning about a potential tsunami wiping out Karachi might be discredited due to its low probability, but examples of Japan should highlight the spontaneity of such catastrophes and the evident need for efficient tsunami warning and disaster management mechanisms, which are yet to be developed by the government.
It’s high time that climate change became one of the key priorities of the government. Already there have thousands of people displaced by the previous disasters, and this number will continue to rise if urgent action is not taken. The citizens of Pakistan have suffered enough for this matter to be taken seriously, and if there is further inaction, this will only continue to intensify the gravity of the disasters. And this time, saying that India opened its dams to flood our rivers will not be enough.