By Urooj Jamal
A couple of years back, retired Lt Gen Tariq Waseem Ghazi, working for Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change, declared the changing climate and its distressing effects a “security threat” for Pakistan. His words have now become crystal clear, as the drastic consequences of climate change have begun to unfold more strenuously than ever. The climate change issue—undoubtedly—is a threat to the entire humanity, recognizing no boundaries impacting the entire globe ubiquitously, but in some regions—as Asia and Africa—vulnerability is especially very high. Pakistan being located in the southern part of Asia has become 8th most affected country from climate change. She contributes only 0.8%(135th) of the total global Green House Gases emission but remains one of the most affected countries.
Climate change, being inescapable, is a potential ‘Threat multiplier’ for Pakistan’s security due to her high vulnerability. Keeping in view the hostile neighborhood Pakistan has inherited, such vulnerability can pose a greater threat to her national security. This vulnerability can better be explained by viewing the demography of socially most vulnerable sections of our population which inhabits areas such as KPK and Baluchistan that are more prone to climatic hazards, resulting in dire effects on the nation’s long term stability. Approximately 25% Pakistani population lives in areas that are predicted to be weather-intensive hotspots by 2050. Peace does not always mean “no war” but it also means stable living conditions. Situation inside strategically important areas of Pakistan that are already grappling with conflicts and instability can exacerbate by a changing climate. Political and demographic realities added up by climate changes, food scarcity and water unavailability can culminate into a destabilizing effect of the kind of Arab Spring. Hence one would wonder what are the ways climate change has shown itself and how to address them?
Important indicators of climate change are: fluctuating precipitation patterns, water unavailability, weather induced natural disasters, droughts and heat waves, and food scarcity. Of these, water unavailability is the most alarming issue our nation is facing. Pakistan is quickly becoming a water-stressed country because she has the capacity to store water equivalent to a mere 30 days of consumption while the minimum standard water-reserving capacity should be of 120 days. It is interesting to know that Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush, which are the largest fresh water resources beside Earth’s polar ice sheets (due to which they are known as world’s Third Pole) are located in the north of Pakistan. But due to mounting temperature and increased pollution they are retreating fast. A comprehensive survey of the causes and consequences of these glaciers’ meltdown by NASA’s High Mountain Asia Team (HiMAT), led by Anthony Arendt of the University of Washington in Seattle, is in its third year. According to its findings, high glacial peaks of Asia are shrinking and retreating, glacial lakes proliferating and growing, and the risk of catastrophic flooding heightening more than ever. The research of HiMAT further elaborates the underlying causes of high future-rates of snow and ice-melt, stating that dust, soot and pollution that settle on the frozen surfaces play a critical role. Pristine white snow that reflects more than 90% of incoming solar radiation back into the atmosphere has been blanketed by darker-colored particles of soot or dust. This coating absorbs more heat and the snow melts faster.
The climbing temperatures and thawing glaciers have raised alarm bells for food availability in the country. This is because Pakistan has a substantial agricultural base dependent on the Indus river which originates from these glaciers. The prognosis that these glaciers will retreat in about next 4 to 5 decades shrinking by 30 to 40% of their current volume will have a drastic impact on the production of water intensive crops—such as sugarcane, cotton, and rice—threatening food insecurity and cross-boundary conflicts. Reports say, Pakistan could lose up to 50% of her wheat production by 2050 due to climate change, land degradation, water scarcity, water-logging and high evaporation rates due to high temperature. Overall trend in crop productivity was negative for the fiscal year 2017-18, and this trend is predicted to remain so viewing present climate change trends. All this could possibly lead to a chaos that will be very difficult to handle unless proper preventive measures taken sooner rather than later.
Other serious impacts Pakistan can face due to changing climate are weather-borne calamities such as: heat waves, flash floods, cloud bursts, and droughts. From 2010 onwards, there has been a marked increase in the frequency of heat waves and floods. Since 2010, the floods and other hydro- disasters have stricken and displaced more than 20 million Pakistanis. During the current year, widespread flash flooding in KPK, Baluchistan, Punjab and northern parts of Pakistan has claimed more than 150 lives. Heat waves in Sindh have taken more than 1200 lives in a single year in 2015, and the number is constantly being added up by the annual death tolls since then. Droughts in Tharparkar and other regions especially Baluchistan have become even more severe taking thousands of lives over the past few years. Destabilizing impacts of such droughts, floods and intense weather conditions could overwhelm disaster-management capabilities of a state creating a situation of internal turmoil as well as external vulnerability unless treated promptly.
Better late than never, our nation is increasingly becoming conscious of these hovering climatic threats. The issue is now being debated under national security planning; and it poses an added challenge to the national policy makers. However, a concerted effort by state, society, and international community is indispensable. An exemplary partnership among state, public, and civil society is required to tackle with the uncertain and unpredictable climate changes. A two-pronged collective effort should be made: firstly to adapt to and secondly to mitigate the worsening climate change scenario.
For adaptation, disaster- preparedness, raising awareness, organizational and institutional adjustments, capacity and infrastructure building, and local population mobility is vital. While under mitigation procedures, the country requires substantial steps to ensure a better food and water management system, energy sufficiency, town planning, waste management, and eco-friendly technological approach. Both short and long-term plans need to be devised on immediate basis to pacify current extreme weather conditions and keep them from worsening even further before it becomes too late; as the famous climatologist and geophysicist Raymond T. Pierrehumbert said:
“The big damages come if the climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases turns out to be high [causing greater global warming than current projections.] Then it’s not a bullet headed at us, but a thermonuclear warhead.”
The contributor is a student of International Relations at KIU.