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Climate concerns

August 31, 2018

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THE government of Pakistan is taking climate change seriously, and so are other research and development organisations. A climate change ministry has been set up at the federal level along with a climate change national authority. In addition, a multi-sectoral national network on climate change has been established. It consists of a dozen scientific and research organisations, civil society groups and government departments.

The function of the network is to develop information exchange, hold forums for raising awareness (especially in the media) and dissemination of research material. In addition, there is the Pakistan Disaster Management Authority to deal with the many inevitable climate change-related disasters.

However, to deal with and prevent such disasters you also need effective line departments of which those of irrigation, local government, forest and roads are perhaps the most important. The 2010 floods in Sindh showed us that flooding was also manmade. Canals, barrages and headworks had not been de-silted, preventing the flow of water. Flood protection and canal embankments had not been maintained, and in many cases, the trees on them had been cut illegally and sold.

The drainage and water systems in Sindh flow north to south. Many new roads cut across them. While bridges have been built on the larger channels, roads usually block many of the smaller drainage channels making the disposal of water almost impossible. Between the mid ’80s and 2010, the floodplains of the rivers were occupied. These floodplains have been clearly demarcated and no construction of any permanent nature is permitted on them under the law. However entire settlements, complete with social and physical infrastructure, have been built on them over the years, often with the help of government agencies.

There’s an urgent need to improve line departments.

Another aspect that surfaced during the floods was the role of local government and community organisations. Where local government and line departments were better organised and community organisations existed, the management of prevention, relief and rehabilitation was organised more successfully than in areas where such linkages and groups did not exist.

All this points to the urgent need for improving the functioning of line departments; developing a third tier of local government and supporting it with technical advice and managerial guidance, very much along the lines proposed by the PTI. If this is done effectively, it will lead to the creation of empowered local communities and prevent powerful landlords from breaching canal and flood protection embankments to protect their lands, as, it is claimed, happened in 2010.

One of the major climate change-related concerns is the growing water shortage in Pakistan which experts feel is already at crisis level. This has led to the reopening of the Kalabagh dam issue and renewed pressure for the building of the Bhasha dam which might take more than 20 years to become operative. Some 92 to 95 per cent of all water in Pakistan is spent on agriculture. We practise flood irrigation where water is flooded into the fields. These fields are for the most part uneven as a result of which a very large volume of water is required to flood them.

An important government land-levelling programme already exists, to use laser levellers attached to tractors to level agricultural land. The programme has been initiated both in Punjab and Sindh, and farmers who have levelled their field claim that, as a result, water usage has dropped by 20pc to 25pc. However, small landlords claim that the machines have disappeared and are now in the possession of powerful landowners. An added advantage of the levelling process is that fields can be made to slope towards the drainage systems thus not only saving water but improving drainage too.

Another government programme operative in both Sindh and Punjab is the lining of canals with brick and concrete to prevent seepage and hence loss of water. This again would save another 15pc to 20pc of water usage. Meanwhile, if farmers lined their water courses, additional saving of water could be achieved. Serious research and its extension are required on developing materials that can be used for quick and easy lining of water courses.

The laser levelling and canal lining programmes have not really taken off. It is important that they be expanded with immediate effect because for the time being they are a quicker and cheaper, and in the long run, a more effective means of tackling the water crisis than waiting for the completion of large dams.

Scientific research and the creation of new institutions around it is important. However, it cannot do much without local level O&M institutions which have long institutional memories. Making these institutions efficient and powerful should be a priority for the climate change agenda.

arifhasan37@gmail.com

www.arifhasan.org

Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2018