Winter deaths

January 16, 2020

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THE death toll and the number of injured keep rising. As harsh winter conditions grip much of the country — particularly Azad Jammu & Kashmir, Balochistan, and parts of Punjab — the government has ordered immediate humanitarian assistance for the affected. And yesterday, Prime Minister Imran Khan paid a visit to patients at the CMH in Muzaffarabad, calling for relief efforts “on an emergency footing”. Over the past few days, the region has been ravaged by deadly avalanches and landslides that were triggered by unexpected rainfall, leading to the closure of several important routes in AJK and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. AJK has recorded the highest number of fatalities so far. It is followed by the resource-rich yet perennially poor province of Balochistan, which has been enveloped in a thick blanket of snow. With no let-up in the crisis, the total number of deaths has crossed 100. Meanwhile, the present state of gas shortage in the country has meant that many families cannot operate heaters and geysers inside their homes, and continue to remain at the mercy of the elements.

Experts consider such extreme winters to be yet another feature of the global warming crisis. Pakistan sits uncomfortably in the position of the fifth most vulnerable country to the effects of climate change — despite producing less than 1pc of the total greenhouse gas emissions. About a decade ago, the country was devastated by a series of floods which led to approximately 2,000 deaths, while millions of others were displaced from their homes. In more recent years, it has witnessed droughts in its southern parts, which have suffered from severe water shortages. The present government seems to understand the seriousness of the issue well. After all, in his first address to the nation as the newly elected prime minister in 2018, Prime Minister Khan listed the environment as part of his 11-point agenda. That same year, he launched his ambitious ‘10-billion-tree tsunami’ to counter climate change. And last year, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly, he brought up the threat of climate change once again — this time on the global stage. Despite saying all the right things, however, it remains to be seen what large-scale measures are being taken on the ground to reverse the damage already done. Furthermore, if such extreme weather is to become the norm, there has to be better preparedness in order to avert future disasters.

When the world leaders came together to sign the Paris Agreement in 2015, it was decided that responsibility for climate change rested with all the countries. And yet, a handful of leaders of the world’s most powerful nations continue to deny the reality of climate change, despite all the evidence around them, and insist on the old ways of doing business. History will not forgive them and climate-related tragedies will continue to strike.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2020