Lack of Political Will to Tackle Climate Change in Gilgit-Baltistan

Natural Communication, a scientific journal study reveals that “Fifteen million people worldwide are at risk of glacial-lake flooding”. Staggeringly, 2 million of these potential victims are located in Pakistan.

The study should sent alert signals to Pakistan, especially Gilgit-Baltistan, where more than 7000 glaciers including Siachen, Baltoro, Batura, Biafo, Biarchedi, Bilafond, and many more, are located.

Glaciers are natural ice bodies that benefit mankind by sustaining lives and the environment. Glaciers are an essential (about 70%) source of freshwater for Pakistan. Their meltwater flows into rivers, supplies drinking water for humans, feed ecological habitats and agricultural activity, and even electricity. In Gilgit-Baltistan, communities get water directly from glacier melt water running down the valley streams.  90% of the area of GB is mountainous, 4% is forest and 4.2% is cultivated waste. Cropped area is about 1.2% of the total area. This cropped area sustains about 2 million population spread thinly over a vast terrain in the ten districts, stretching from the Chinese border in the North to KP province in the South.

The region is increasingly being hit hard by climate change related hazards. Locals have been witnessing and becoming victims of sudden high altitudes lake outbursts, the phenomenon known as “Glaciers Lake Outburst Flood” (GLOF).

The surge in the frequency of lake outburst is particularly due to climate change that directly affects glaciers or ice bodies triggering melting rate of glaciers that overfills the lakes at high altitude. Around 90% of the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan are dependent on agriculture and livestock for livelihood, despite of their being very less land for cultivation.

Due to zero  government interest in attracting private investors and promoting local industries the region produces some unique business opportunities like a business of local fruits, especially cherry, mulberry, apples, walnut, apricot, grapes, almond,  salted irani pistachio and many more. The locals are at risk of being exploited by private corporations or business elites of Pakistan to utilize their natural resources and earn huge capital in return while doing nothing beneficial to locals for sustaining their ecology and community welfare. The region is geo-strategically and geo-economically significant and catches the attention of major powers in the region including India and China. China under its One Belt One Road (OBOR) for regional and global connectivity, has been working on CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) since 2013 which is marked as a game changer for Pakistan economically as well as creating human resources. This pilot project is envisioned as the beginning revolution in the communication and infrastructure network in Pakistan But with more commercialization activities in Gilgit-Baltistan through CPEC routes, continuous and uninterrupted flow of heavy vehicles through the region which would escalate the possible danger of speedy climate change and consequently risk of lakes outburst at high altitudes.

According to the study discussed above, more than 3,044 glacier lakes have naturally formed in Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa out of which 33 glaciers are at serious risk of outburst threatening human lives, livestock, agriculture and the environment. Noted meteorologist Dr Muhammad Hanif warns, “In Pakistan, the frequency and intensity of GLOF events are increasing by 20 per cent every year due to global warming and local factors, such as deforestation and human interference in stable glacier regions.” The recent incident includes the sweep of Hassanabad bridge, an important bridge on the CPEC pathway in Hunza due to a flash flood caused by the Shishper glaciers outburst. These climate hazards affect the local economy and GB’s government has to now and then seek help from the federal for compensating affected people financially. The annual budget for Gilgit-Baltistan is even very least for development projects in the region then in such circumstances as G-B relies on Pakistan for all the grants or packages how could a region confront climate change hazards and take measures to make sure the locals are unharmed by any eruption or threats caused by climate change.

Since the Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2009 has been promulgated the major regional issues including power, education, health and climate change subjects are alienated and fall under the provincial concurrent list. The local political dynamics haven’t yet evolved and understood the potentials of the region to translate those potentials into the welfare and well-being of the locals, instead, the local government and leaders have the habit of totally looking up to the centre for policy-making and executions over any important subject. The region could be the “capital of tourism” in the world and “The best mountain adventure place” hosting the world’s 2nd largest mountain of the world i.e. K-2. The other natural resources are  Water Resources and Mineral Resources  which should discussed and debated in local political discourse like other issues including demand for constitutional rights and wheat subsidies etc. Unfortunately, the local political leaders have no policy on subjects like climate change and climate adaptation strategies that are viable and in the long run benefit Gilgit-Baltistan. Such political attitudes and practices further expand the sphere of vulnerabilities of the locals. Before we reach the point of no return, political leaders in Gilgit-Baltistan should lay down stress on their policies and come to the front to address the concerns and voices that are neglected and unheard.

The contributor is a student of International Relations at Quaid i Azam University, Islamabad. Email: naveedakhtar1261@gmail.com

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