By Arif Hussain Baltistani
A report published by world’s Bank South Asia Climate Action Plan 2021-2025 unfolds that not corruption, incompetence or state negligence, but climate change is the biggest challenge for development in Pakistan. The report further states that quality of life in Pakistan is set to decline by 4 to 5% by 2030. It explicitly states that natural disasters in 2010 have cost Pakistan $ 14 billion, thus reversing the development of past 15 years.
The statistics appear to be correct as burning of unchecked fossil, unplanned development and rapid urbanization are putting several regions of the world on the track of reverse development. If we focus and closely study the region of Gilgit Baltistan in this context, the situation becomes even more clearer.
Gilgit-Baltistan region, where highest number of glaciers, outside the polar regions, exist is prone to negative consequences of climate peril. This region is undergoing the process of reverse development due to three key factors; meagre developmental budget, slow pace of development, extreme weather events and poor planning from the higher echelons.
Out of a meabger budget of 119 billion budget allocated for Gilgit Baltistan in 2022-23, merely 47 billion (39%) is allocated for development. Not to forget that the region is stretched to 72000 sq.km having a highly scattered population of about 2 million people. Given the rough and difficult terrain of the region, the amount utilized on development is like a drop in ocean. In other words, the per capita development expenditure in Gilgit Baltistan is Rs.2,350 per annum. Comparatively, average developmental spending in Punjab Pakistan is Rs.6,227 and in Sindh the amountis Rs.9,787.
Clearly, the pace of development in the Gilgit-Baltistan region is slow which is failing to counter the impact of natural disasters brought by the burgeoning climate change process. Ironically, Gilgit-Baltistan’s contribution to global warming is zero, as the region does not have any major industrial units.
The global Climate risk index formulated by German-Watch, a global climate watch-dog ranks Pakistan as 5th most vulnerable country. Gilgit Baltistan, unfortunately is a major receiver of the climate events’s impact, such as GLOF, floods, land sliding and earthquakes. It is an admitted fact that destruction brought by climate events are speedier than the pace of development in the region. Take a look at Badswat District Ghizer. In this area the GLOF event of 2010 has almost undone the spending of last 20-30 years. People in this area still lacks road, telecommunication and various other basic necessities of life. In fact, the developmental resources are unable to put Gilgit Baltistan on track of positive development.
Similarly, the weather pattern in GB, like in my regions of the world has changed drastically. The German Watch report, quoted earlier states that Pakistan has observed 297 extreme weather events in last decade. Gilgit-Baltistan contributes some major disasters such as Attabad lake formation, Badswat GLOF event and Saichen Glacier movement. There is no doubt that glacial melting in the region is unprecedented high. Streams are high, flood are visible every now and then blocking roads and destroying infrastructure. In such scenarios, the investments are unable to yield benefit despite of crossing its estimated time. Take a look at Juglot- Skardu road. It is unknown that whether it is completed or not but it was inaugurated in year 2021. Since its inauguration, flashflood, earthquakes and rock sliding have been continuously augmenting the cost of the project. Less hopes are there that this project will cross the break-even point on cost-benefit graph and generate revenue. Climate change has inflicted the region which will further deteriorate infrastructures in future as response to climate change are abysmal around the world. Thus development in Gilgit Baltistan is on backtrack.
Last but not least, the higher echelon is seriously not serious about environment friendly and climate resilient projects. Like in rest of the country, environmental protection agency, EPA, is just a rubber stamp in Gilgit-Baltistan. They have no say in planning process and selection of sites for projects. Adding wind to the whirl, the successive governments have no idea of establishing climate change ministry which is mandatory according to the commitments made by Pakistan on global environmental summits. Consequently, designing, site selection and execution of projects are left in the hand of quacks. Easily the contractors- who are stack holders in political dynamics of GB, manipulate the tyros. For instance, the recent increase of water in streams of district Ghizer Ishkoman has washed away several government installments. A hydro-power house which was constructed at the cost of 0.5 billion was built at the mouth of a stream without studying the history and discharge level of the stream. A little increase of water in the stream has undone the whole investment. Basically, ignoring the protocols of environment, developmental projects in Gilgit Baltistan are none other than encroachments in nature. If the process continues, the day is not far when nature responds in the same coin. In words of Griffith Taylor, the founder of Neo-determinism school of thought, “Human can change the environment through various innovations and activities, but there is a limit to change by a human, the environment compels them to stop. The real image of the saying is visible in Gilgit-Baltistan where nature is pushing back humans and putting the region on the track of reverse development.
The contributor is a Tehsildar (Magistrate) based in Ishkoman Valley. He was actively engaged in disaster response recently.