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Pakistan’s vulnerability

Many interventions on disasters focus on the response instead of preparedness

Pakistan’s vulnerability
In the absence of preparedness.

Pakistan ranks 135th in terms of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Yet, it’s amongst the countries most affected by climate change. Over the years, it has lost billions of dollars due to increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. However, sufficient resources have not been allocated to address the issue.

In 2015, only PKR39 million were allocated to the ministry of climate change, which is not sufficient to adapt and mitigate the issue. Pakistan has experienced damages worth an estimated USD 10 billion dollars as a result of the floods of 2010, according to World Bank and Asian Development Bank reports.

The World Resources Institute (WRI), a global research organisation, further testifies Pakistan’s vulnerability to extreme weather events, and ranks Pakistan at number five in the list of top 15 counties whose 80 per cent of the total population is exposed to river flood risk.

WRI further highlights how Pakistan’s 0.98 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), equivalent to USD1.7 billion, is getting affected by river flooding, on average each year.

According to Dr. Adil Najam, Dean, Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University and former Chairman Board of Governors, Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Pakistan, a think tank, “In terms of mitigation, there is fairly little that Pakistan can do. Given that Pakistan is a fairly small emitter, our mitigation may not make a huge global difference. However, Pakistan should certainly care about efficiency and especially about energy waste, given how energy poor we are.”

When asked how cities can be made resilient to climatic impacts, Najam says, “Pakistan should be very carefully looking at its burgeoning cities and easing life there. Massive concrete structures do make the challenges greater. The best test of whether a city is environmentally sensible is to see if it is livable, especially for its most marginalised citizens. Meet that test, and you will mostly also meet the climate test.”

According to Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CEO, LEAD Pakistan and Director Asia, Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), “Pakistan needs to build its cities on a sustainable course and prefer vertical rather than horizontal expansion that is currently under practice,” he says, adding, “If not controlled, this will increase Pakistan’s carbon emissions at a higher rate than our economic growth and development. This urban sprawl will compromise our food security. We have to stop our urban growth and development turning into overgrown villages.

Read also: Adaptation before mitigation

Sheikh regards water as Pakistan’s most important development and governance issue, saying, “Climate change poses further challenges. The changing monsoon pattern is making water supply erratic. Monsoons have begun reaching the upper reaches of our Himalayan ranges and parts of Balochistan, not traditionally covered by monsoon rains. Karachi and other coastal areas have begun to receive more frequent warnings about cyclones and heat wave.”

Malik Amin Aslam, Global Vice President, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Chair, KPK’s Billion Tree Tsunami Project, says “Adaptation measures can counter Pakistan’s extreme vulnerability to climate change, which the country needs to prioritise. However, Pakistan is not a big contributor to GHGs. So while mitigation is important, it is not a priority issue, unless there is a measurable adaptation linked with it, such as in large scale afforestation or going for low carbon energy growth.”

When asked how the Billion Tree Tsunami project can help increase green jobs in KPK and contribute to reduce KPK’s vulnerability to climate change, Aslam says, “The Billion Tree Tsunami is already generating thousands of green jobs and decent employment, especially for the youth and rural women of KPK. This is happening because of the ‘outsourced’ and private sector driven model of forest growth, as well as the community driven forest protection.

Read also: Editorial

“This will considerably help in compacting the mountain slopes and will act as a controlled watershed for flood protection, thereby reducing the climate vulnerability.”

Aslam, however, points out the way our cities are fast losing their green cover to development projects. “This will definitely create concrete jungles and enhance the ‘heat island effect’ which will have the threatening potential to choke off the city during very hot days, such as the heat wave witnessed in the city of Karachi last year.”

A WWF-Pakistan report highlights how excessive pumping has led to the decline of water table in Lahore in the central part below 40m, and projects that by 2025, the water table depth in most areas will drop below 70m, and 100m or more by 2040.

Let’s not forget, however, that 1,200 people died due to heat wave in Karachi last year. It was a natural disaster exacerbated by human-led mistakes. According to Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) Sindh, 60 per cent of deaths occurred in homes, highlighting poor design and minimal ventilation. LEAD Pakistan and CDKN are assisting the Government of Sindh in heat wave management planning.

Dr. Ghulam Rasool, Director General, Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) terms ‘urbanisation’ a dangerous aspect of climate change, as fertile agriculture lands are converted into housing colonies. “Vegetation and crops once used to keep temperatures low produced refreshing air. Now, concrete structures emit heat day and night. On average, city centres have temperatures 3-4 degrees higher than the suburbs. This clearly explains the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect,” says Rasool.

On why the weather patterns have become erratic Rasool says “Under global warming, both summer and winter weather systems have become highly variable over temporal and spatial scales, thus introducing unprecedented challenges to the water sector.” Too much water and too little water has become the greatest challenge, he adds.

According to Dr. Muhibuddin Usamah, Disaster Risk Management Specialist, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pakistan, “There’s a lack of consciousness about the importance of mitigation. Many interventions on disasters impacted by climate change focus on the response instead of preparedness. There have been studies that say USD 1 spent on preparedness saves USD 4 in response.”

“To address reduced urban forest cover, enforcement of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) compliant land-use planning should be done, which includes prohibition of construction in hazard prone areas. In this case, risk mapping must be conducted to define safe and unsafe zone,” says  Dr Usamah.

Syed Muhammad Abubakar

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The writer is an environmental journalist. He Tweets @SyedMAbubakar and can be reached via [email protected]

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