Compounding vulnerabilities

July 22, 2019


The writer is chief executive, Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.
The writer is chief executive, Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.

CLIMATE change is often viewed through the lens of sectors most affected by global warming and changes in precipitation patterns. These include agriculture, water, energy, environment, health and disaster management among others. The risks and vulnerabilities are measured against the losses based on existing and projected determinations, while the solutions typically focus on adaptation and mitigation.

While it is imperative to take measures to reduce emissions, it is equally important to address the other contributing factors that have a threat-multiplier effect on climate-induced vulnerabilities.

The compounding factors that magnify the problem remain outside the mainstream conversations on climate. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals offer complementary approaches for building resilience, but in order to achieve its targets, a paradigm shift in thinking is needed.

There are four pillars on which it is important to redefine approaches and construct a new narrative, if the end objective is to build a resilient nation with the capacity and coping mechanisms to face the challenges of climate change and the socioeconomic reconfiguration taking place in the multipolar world order.

The factors that magnify the problem remain outside the mainstream conversations on climate.

Population: The most daunting challenge for Pakistan is to contain its population growth. A youth bulge is only a dividend if the economy has the capacity to absorb its potential. It becomes a liability if economic growth is sluggish and employment opportunities are limited. In 1951, the population stood at 33.7 million. Today, it has risen to a staggering 208 million with an anticipated projection of 400m by 2040. With a dwindling resource base, scarcity of water, increase in drought and desertification — coupled with dire projections of climate change on food, water and energy — the growing numbers will become our biggest enemy. Given the high rate of stunting (38 per cent) and poor health indicators, productive numbers in the population will be few, widening the income divide and pitting vested interest groups against each other for grab of limited resources, resulting in demographic shifts and societal strife. No matter how much improvement there is in the socioeconomic and environmental indicators, the current population growth rate will thwart progress.

Education: The education system is in disarray. With three different systems operating in the country — madressah, public and private educational institutions — and propagating different ideologies, there is dissonance between the poor, middle and upper class approaches to life within the country and on relations with the outside world. The application of science, objective analysis and logical thought is largely missing in the madressahs and public sector where the majority receive their schooling.

Infused with ultra-nationalism, emotionally charged with radicalised thoughts and a revisionist narrative shaping their minds, they represent a majority that is unable to reconcile with the reality of the present-day world. The concept of one-person, one-vote is entrenched in political democracy, but the stark disconnect between one-vote and one-value in the social landscape is the result of the ideological divide between the three schooling systems. Focus on science and cognitive approaches that allow minds to be creative and free from biased and judgemental teachings is necessary to produce a new generation of citizens.

Status of women: The social and cultural dynamics that dictate the role of women in society leave her at a disadvantage. A large percentage of the population lives in rural areas where the role of women in decision-making is negligible. Female literacy levels are low and the rate of transition from middle to high school is poor. Out of the 47m employed people in 2008, only 9m were women, with 70pc working in the agriculture sector. According to the World Bank, women made up 22.3pc of the labour force in 2014.

Women who do try to enter the workforce are pushed in the lower of the three employment structures and are often paid lower wages than their male counterparts. Pakistan ranks low on the gender parity index because society does not allow women to realise their full potential or accept them as equal partners, often citing culture and tradition as reasons for curtailing their freedom. As nearly half the population comprises women, it will be very difficult to cope with the emerging socioeconomic and environmental challenges without investment in their human capital. Ensuring equitable access to resources and equal opportunity for the economic growth of women is a necessary prerequisite for building a resilient society.

Regional cooperation: We live in a volatile region where deep divisions exist between countries for a variety of reasons. Distrust and animosity over the years have created a paranoid mindset that casts a dark shadow over the hearts and minds of both citizens and policymakers. The hate hysteria blinds reason and creates hurdles in forging mutually beneficial ties and trade-offs. Confidence-building measures crash in the face of a single , real or imagined, act of aggression. Even Saarc, with its tremendous potential, became a victim of this dysfunctional relationship.

Time has come now to take cognisance of the fact that no country can move forward alone without consolidating peace and security at the regional level. Isolationist approaches and exclusive thinking will alienate populations and polarise society. Beyond civilisational history, the region shares mountains, water, air and ecological corridors. The land, air and water connectivity will come into sharp relief as the impacts of climate change begin to manifest more potently and have a spillover effect on neighbouring countries. Climate hotspots will aggravate the situation by putting 800m lives at risk in South Asia and pose new challenges related to migration and displacement.

Addressing these issues in a holistic manner across party lines will lead to resilient pathways that may help prepare governments to cope better with the inevitable hardships that will confront its citizenry in the next decade.

The writer is chief executive, Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.

Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2019