‘No country can ignore the impacts of climate change’

Updated May 05, 2019

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Dr Mohammad Mansha speaks at the event.—White Star
Dr Mohammad Mansha speaks at the event.—White Star

KARACHI: Day two of the conference on climate change titled ‘An Existential Challenge for Pakistan’ organised by the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) comprised reading of several technical papers focusing on subjects including good governance and conservation, water resources and future projections.

Speaking about good governance and conservation in the context of climate change, architect and town planner Arif Hasan said that climate change had motivated the government here to set up many centralised organisations such as the National Disaster Management Authority and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities. However they did not really have the capacity to deal with disaster situations. Then there are also mitigation and management issues regarding infrastructure and land departments.

“During the 2010 floods, I worked in areas where the floods took place and the volume of water in earlier floods was far more though the disaster was bigger in 2010. It was because the land departments were not functioning well. There was no cleaning of canals, no desilting of drains, deforestation had also taken place with failure of the irrigation department in carrying out its normal functions,” he said.

“Then between 1983 and 2010, there had been much construction on the flood plains with villages and even schools there while under the law there shouldn’t be any settlements there. Then in 2011, too, it was the same story,” Mr Hasan pointed out.

About the heat island effect in Karachi where over a thousand people died when the temperature went up to 42 degrees Celsius for six days in 2015, he said that earlier the city had also witnessed higher temperatures of 48 degrees Celsius and still no one had died. “So what changed? Human settlements and the nature of these settlements changed. Research by Dr Noman Ahmed of NED University shows that those rushed to hospitals at the time came from high-rises in katchi abadis where there is little ventilation so there is a need for cheap methods of insulation and ventilation,” he said.

He also said that Pakistan had spent lots of money in developing infrastructure but not much for maintenance.

Dr Mohammad Zia Hashmi, head of the water section of the Global Change Impact Studies Centre (GCISC) in Islamabad spoke about the ‘Impact of climate change on Pakistan’s water resources from the mountains to the sea’. Looking at the journey of water from the snowy and glacier-rich northern mountainous part of the country to the confluence of the Indus River with the Arabian Sea at the endangered Indus River delta, he said that basically everything was about water. “If we can think of water in a better way, we can handle climate change in a better way, too,” he said.

Dr Mohammad Mansha, director, Earth Sciences, Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission, had several climate predictions such as floods, droughts, cyclones, about which he said that they were expected to increase in frequency and severity in the coming decades.

Speaking about priorities in the face of climate change, Dr Shahbaz Mehmood, head of the Climatology and Environment Section at GCISC, said that Pakistan for almost the last decade had consistently been ranked among the top 10 countries most affected by climate change. “The major climate change-related concerns of Pakistan include increased risk of extreme climate events, increased monsoon variability, food insecurity, health risks and rising sea levels. He also said that the mean annual temperature over Pakistan has increased with a greater increase in Sindh and Balochistan.

Adil Najam, dean, Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University, USA, spoke about ‘Pakistan in the age of adaptation’. “Because the world has been unwilling and unable to respond to the great threat of global climate change in time with appropriate measures of mitigation, we are now condemned to live in what I call the ‘Age of Adaptation’,” he said. “Adaptation after all, is essential. Ignoring the impacts of climate change is no longer a luxury that any country can afford, least of all, Pakistan,” he added.

Retired General Tariq Waseem Ghazi; chairman emeritus, Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority Jamshed Azim Hashmi; former member Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission Javed Iqleem and PIIA’s chairperson Dr Masuma Hasan also spoke.

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2019