During the present decade, climate change has evolved as a matter of global concern with a sizable intensity. Pakistan is also affected by the various outfalls of climate changes caused by global and local actions. The common global factors comprise carbon emissions, global warming, depletion of ozone layer, melting ice caps, rising ocean levels, reduction in forest cover, adverse impacts on bio-diversity, reduction in fresh water reserves and anomalies caused in weather patterns.
Issues prominent in the national scenario include droughts, unpredictable rates of precipitation, depletion of water aquifers, spread of water logging/salinity, melting of glaciers, flash floods, unpredicted monsoons, acid rains, drastic reduction in forest cover, marine pollution and sea level rise. Apart from the global factors, a sizable damage has been caused as a consequence of nascent development process and local factors.
Pakistan is suffering from these impacts which are a visible cause for losses in productivity, livelihoods and redundancy of precious ecological assets. While it is wise to take a proactive stance at the global level in the climate change initiatives, it is extremely important to mitigate the local causes without any further delay.
Coastal marine environment of Pakistan is facing a crisis, ironically at the hands of its very users. This has been complicated by periodic reduction in mangrove forests affecting traditional habitats, such as Gizri, Korangi, Phitti, Gharo and adjoining creeks.
Initiation of large-scale real estate developments along the south of Karachi is one reason for the removal of mangrove cover. The other factor that has led to this catastrophe is the reckless cutting of mangrove branches and trunks by coastal communities for use as fire wood. Field studies by researchers have shown that local people uproot and plunder the budding habitat of mangrove plants and continue to do so for mundane utilisation.
An uneven pattern of land reclamation by some ambitious developers has cut away marine water flow, thus causing a natural death of mangroves. Marine ecology is also impacted by raw sewage inflow. At present, 450 million gallons of sewage is pushed into the Arabian Sea from Karachi on a daily basis. Human waste, sludge, acids, bases, bio-degradables and toxic substances are few of the ingredients that pass untreated into the sea. Micro environment of the coastline is thus constantly degraded.
The oil spills from ships is also a source of pollution. About 0.09 million tones of used oil is discharged along the Karachi coast annually. All of these factors contribute to the various climate factors which need to be scientifically analysed for proper prevention, mitigation and adaptation plans.
Precious ecosystem of the Indus delta is another case in point. It is spread on an area of 0.6 million hectares between Korangi and Sir Creek. This habitat primarily owes its lifeline to the fresh water discharges from Indus. Research studies have shown environmental flows, which are needed to keep the delta alive, happens only three months in a year. Despite the inter-provincial conflicts and claims, it is found that the estuaries run dry for most part of the year.
Ingress of sea and threat of destruction of soil quality are two principal hazards faced by local communities in these locations. It may be noted that high salinity adversely impacts the aquatic life and fishing population. Over harvesting of marine resources (and also their reckless destruction), naturally occurring meandering of creeks, grazing of marine greenery by cattle and camels are some of the concerns.
Mangrove reduction in this region is also extensive. A study informs that about two third of mangrove population has died since 1979. Needless to say that tsunami, cyclones and tidal waves are naturally intercepted by mangroves, saving lives and assets. They do the work which is worth a multi-million dollar construction of artificial dykes.
The war on terror and deforestation in the north of the country had negative climate impacts. Dislocation of population and re-location to places unprepared for settlement destroy flora and fauna. Bombings and explosions all along the lengths and breadths of Swat and other parts of Malakand region have generated immense harm to plant life. Scientists had estimated a forest depletion process on an average of 800 sq. km. per annum.
Common sense informs that loss of forests cause soil erosion and compound effects of land sliding. The conservation of forests acts as the natural regulator of climate and topographical conditions. In the prevailing anarchy and lawlessness, the forest cover is conveniently removed by the vested interests for their private advantage. The existing institutional arrangements for the management of forest lands fall grossly short of this vital national duty.
Mass scale corruption and involvement of high stakes render the monitoring process ineffective. While the tree plantation campaigns launched by the federal government and various civil society organisations are entirely welcome, the pace must be accelerated to scale up to the challenge.
In Pakistan, the realisation towards climate change agenda is slow and not promising. Water resources conservation, protection of life and assets of people, combating vulnerabilities caused to lesser income groups and eventually curtailing social dislocations are imperative. Meteorologists and other professionals have predictions about impending droughts and reduction in water availability.
For food production and conservation of settlements, it is most vital to prepare a mitigation and adaptation strategy. If food prices soar, it can lead to social and political upheavals. It is also likely that the country may suffer from the climate migration syndrome. That is to say people would be forced to relocate due to hazards generated by climatic factors. For a country which is already grappling with security and conflict-based dislocations, a further wave of natural displacement of population will not be desirable.
There are many ways of approaching this scenario. Several organisations are working towards addressing the issue of climate change. Asian Development Bank has a spread out agenda of supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation process. Some of its institutional arms looking into this avenue include Climate Change Fund (CCF), Clean Energy Financing Partnership Facility (CEFPF), Asia Pacific Carbon Fund (APCF), Future Carbon Fund (FCF), Water Financing Partnership Facility (WFPF) and Poverty and Environment Fund (PEF).
Several research groups are busy analysing the trends and developing plans and strategies to combat the issue. The knowledge base is now being developed to address this menace which is common to all of us. By intelligent use of resources, timely actions and implementation, the constraint can be turned into an opportunity. It is hoped that our decision makers will rise to the occasion.