June 30, 2017

Villagers wade through flood waters

Despite the writing on the wall, many still cling to their denial of the severity of the environmental issues facing us. Issues that won’t go away, returning time and again with a vengeance fueled by our arrogance and ignorance.

Pakistan is ranked as one of the top ten countries most affected by climate change. This ‘affect’ is not a hypothetical scenario in the distant future. Our present is already feeling the impact and there is much worse in store for the near future if we continue at this pace.

Our agri based economy is at the front line. The backbone of Pakistan’s economy is agriculture, contributing 21% to the GDP. Climate change has a direct impact on this, from lowered yields to a drastic change in the overall crop patterns. An estimated loss of 30% in production is expected in the coming years. For anyone with even the basic knowledge of how agricultural production works, the recent disturbed patterns of rainfall should be sign enough to start taking environmental change very seriously.

But the buck doesn’t stop at agriculture. Climate change affects the determinants of the rest of the food cycle, health and even the social fabric.

Globally, each of the last three decades has been successively warmer than the preceding one, since 1850. For the last few years we have been breaking the wrong kind of record, with each passing year being declared as the hottest year so far, further accelerating the problems.

Locals cool off during a heatwave

As per a recent report of WHO, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress between 2030 and 2050. These are ailments that we have already found remedies for, however, their climate change induced intensity is still capable of creating havoc. This is something that we have witnessed in Pakistan. The consecutive monsoon floods of 2014, 2015 and 2016 are a etched in our memories. Zahid Hamid, Minister for Law and Justice as well as Climate Change, declared in a March 2017 senate session that these floods affected a total of 4.5 million people and claimed 1,029 lives.

As always, climate change most impacts the most disadvantaged section of society and so is also a human rights issue. Tagging along as a volunteer with a team of doctors to Muzaffargarh in south-western Punjab which was ravished by floods in 2010 brought this point home. The physical destruction was just the tip of the ice berg. The loss of crops translated into a debt cycle. Then thee was  widespread diseases and infections. Like an example out of a text book, the most vulnerable were, women, children and the elderly. The fact that countries like ours have a very weak health infrastructure system, coping with the aftermaths of such disasters becomes a systems failure in itself.

Climate change feeds the poverty cycle. The major chunk of a household’s money goes to provide for basic needs. Food and medicine constitute the biggest pie. Both these aspects share a direct relation with climate change. These people then don’t have the money to invest in their children’s education and thus, with every generation, history repeats itself.

Migration is also triggered by climate change, both local and global. Locally, after natural calamities, given that the rehabilitation process is itself fractured, people move towards the more established urban centres. This adds to the pressure on the already stretched resources of these centres.

On the international front, this is going to add to the issue of brain drain. As per the International Organization for Migration’s forecast, some 25 million to 1 billion people will be pushed to migrate due to environmental changes globally by 2050, from countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and China etcetera. This aspect of the issues still not been explored within the country to factor in its own associated set of issues.

Climate change and its consequences is not an imported subject. This is our own reality and we need to own it. Nature always wins. There is no defying its laws so we might as well team up with her for our own good, instead of picking a fight that we are bound to lose.


Fatima Arif is a marketing professional currently working in the development sector. Her interests include sustainable development, digital media, story telling and photography. She tweets as @FatimaArif