Climate change brings another flood onslaught: environmentalists

KARACHI: Climate change has brought another onslaught of devastating floods in Pakistan testing government machinery, capability, preparedness and interest to tackle natural disasters irrespective of who rules, noted environmentalists told PPI.

President National Forum for Environment and Health NFEH Mohammad Naeem Qureshi said climate change is caused by global warming which is a serious issue facing the world, including Pakistan. Referring to a UN report, Qureshi said that glaciers in South Asia had melted by eight percent, causing floods in Pakistan and India time and again. Almost all governments since the last 15 years have shown non-serious attitude toward environment conservation and protection. The Musharraf and PPP governments formed environment polices but they failed to implement them is true sense as a result, the country was facing tremendous losses due to environment onslaughts. However, United Nations Environment Program UNEP, World Bank and Asian Development Bank have significantly assisted Pakistan in flood rehabilitation and relief.

“There is no proper flood warning system in the country due to lack of interest and seriousness by almost all successive governments. Pakistan will continue to face floods and droughts if environment policies are not implemented in real sense and resources tacking natural disasters are not provided timely,” NFEH president observed.

Pakistan economy faces Rs1 billion losses on daily basis due to environment damages and degradations, hence, a full-fledged federal environment ministry should immediately be established to tackle climate change, global warming and other environment issues with full might, he said. Qureshi flayed merger of Sindh Environment Ministry with Livestock and Forest Department and said that a full-fledged, separate and strong environment ministry should also be ensured in Sindh by separating wildlife and forest sectors from it likewise Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

Sindh Agricultural and Forestry Workers Coordinating Organization (Safwco) representative and noted environmentalist, Waheed Jamali, said that climate change is a serious threat to the security and prosperity of the world in the 21 century. “Although it is an inherently global problem but its impacts will not be felt equally across our planet. Developing countries, including Pakistan, are much more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

He said Pakistan was already a resource poor country with a very high and fast growing population, very low natural resource base and peculiar unfavourable local socio-cultural conditions. Climate change is an additional stress for this country, he added.

He informed that according to a recently published index, Pakistan was ranked 12th on the list of countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. “In day-to-day life, climate change is not easily distinguished from climate variability, which is happening with or without global warming factors. Thus, it is imperative to make the general public aware of climate change and its impacts in such a way that they can contribute to reduce climate change adverse impacts. People should be at the centre of development and any development agenda will be futile if greater public support is unavailable,” Jamali said.

He said that besides many other challenges, climate change is emerging as perhaps the greatest environmental challenge of the Pakistan causing floods, droughts and increasing hunger, poverty, displacement, soil degradation, desertification and deforestation.

He said government changed the name of an Environment Ministry with Climate Change but could not play efficient role in order to climate change mitigation. Developing National Disaster Management Authority NDMA is good initiative, but at province level land use policy is still missing. The issue of poor land use planning is being left out in current discussions on why disasters keep happening in Pakistan.”

SAFWCO representative said that natural hazards such as floods, landslides or even earthquakes become disasters when the people and physical infrastructure are not able to cope with it. This vulnerability is further worsened by the lack of prevention and preparedness or appropriate emergency management systems which leads to various losses human life, structural and financial.”

He said the poor’s existence is greatly interlinked with their environment. Their options of where to settle and obtain their livelihood from are limited. Their options of settlement are often limited to marginalized locations like riverbanks, steep slopes or coastal shores. When disaster strikes, they usually do not have the resources to recover quickly, he added.

Jamali said floods of years 2010 and 2011 have proved that absence of a comprehensive land use plan can lead quite literally to a disaster: socially, economically and environmentally. Therefore, land use planning is an important instrument in disaster risk management. The goal of land use planning for disaster risk management is to achieve a utilization of land and natural resources which is adapted to local conditions and needs, and takes into account disaster risks.

“I would like to request all authorities, national and international NGOs, donor agencies and all stakeholders to make Pakistan disaster resilient. Good land use and planning brings many other benefits. It provides the best investment options for land and water use as it helps preserve an ecological balance, Jamali concluded.

Deputy Director in Climate Change Division of Federal Cabinet Secretariat and noted environment expert, Mohammad Saleem, said changing weather pattern and rising earth temperatures are major cause of torrential and erratic rains that cause flash floods. He said: “Not only intensity has increased but timing of the rains too has changed. Global warming is likely to be make extreme events worse. For example, when there is more heat in the atmosphere it holds more water and therefore floods in places like Pakistan are heavier. However, there’s no doubt that clearly the climate change is contributing, a major contributing factor. But, let me say that we cannot definitely use one case to establish precedents, but there are a few facts that point towards climate change as having to do with disasters like we witnessed in 2010 and in the following years.”

“we cannot blame entirely on nature for its fury in shape of extreme weather events like floods. In other words, anthropogenic causes cannot be underscored. Manmade climate change was a major cause of devastating floods in Pakistan this year, shifting monsoon rains away from flood defences and into areas of the country incapable of dealing with the deluge. He said: “Pakistan government and NDMA were doing its best to cope with the extreme weather events,” he said.

Saleem said since these events were not routine in Pakistan, there was mechanism or policy level interventions to cope with such disasters Now, different policies, such as National Climate Change Policy, National Disaster Management Plan NDMP, National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy are ready and are being enforced in collaboration with different stakeholders in governmental and nongovernmental sectors to build up Pakistan’s climate resilience and ability to deal with vagaries of climate change.”

He said it is fact that these disasters/extreme weather events cannot be avoided but with effective efforts their impacts can be mitigated or minimized to the greater possible extent and all the NDMA, PDMAs and Federal Climate Change Division are working hands in gloves to achieve this.

Saleem said there is strong need to educate people about these natural disasters and that why these are becoming frequent in Pakistan, which is not responsible for them. Educating masses about the natural disasters and building up their preparedness at educational institutions can be of great help to minimize the damages of disasters. Media can play its due role in this regard and without its supports such awareness raising cannot be boosted, he noted.

He said places that are vulnerable to climate change induced natural disasters must have a proper flood and weather forecasting warning system in place and their residents should be educated on how to deal with crisis situations. “The early flood warnings must be more quantified and people should be educated about the impact of such damage. Local level communities have to be educated and informed too to enable them cope with flood like disasters,” he said.

“When it comes to natural disasters, people at the village or community level have no education on how to tackle the situation. This is major cause of people’s poor response to flood warnings. They must be sensitized and prepared to respond to flood warnings to save their lives, Saleem concluded.