THE recent havoc created by rain-flood in parts of Islamabad is only a glim­pse of what lies in the future for the country. Recently, Jacobabad was also in the international news due to a new heat record. A large body of scientists has been saying for many years now that Climate Change could increase the severity and frequency of extreme heat, flooding and drought at an accelerated pace.

The term “global warming” has been commonly misunderstood as a slow inching up of average temperatures only to which human beings can adapt. Not so. It is the associated aspects of the warming effect which are the cause of serious worry. Being a country that lies just north of the tropic, which will be at the forefront of climate-change events, Pakistan will be among the most affected countries of the world. The purpose of this article is not to explain the science of the climate change phenomenon but to shed light on how Pakistan should manage the disasters that are looming as a result of it.

The various forms in which Pakistan, and especially the urban centres, will get affected are as follows:- Working outdoors because of excessive summer heat will be almost unbearable which will affect the productivity of work, especially of those on farms. The city of Karachi witnessed many deaths due to high temperatures back in 2015 and a repeat is likely throughout the country in future

  • Periodic floods will heavily disrupt urban life as well as cause damage to agricultural lands

  • Both the agricultural yields and cropping patterns are already undergoing a change due to changing climate and this is expected to become more intense with time

  • The sea-waters will produce lesser fish due to vanishing corals thus affecting the livelihoods of many

  • The country’s health system will face pressure to cope with more and more heat-stroke patients as well as other related diseases and last but not least,

Nature-based solutions — such as planting trees next to streets, river-catchment management and sustainable urban-drainage solutions — are among the most attractive actions because of their impact on reducing risks and their feasibility

  • The freshwater availability will further deplete1. Carry out a diagnostic study of the extent of the looming disaster, both in its depth and breadth

To better face the impending disasters, which are almost unavoidable, a national disaster strategy is needed. Given the colossal scale of the challenge, it cannot be entrusted only to the National Disaster Management Authority but every institution will have to play a role. A step-wise methodology could be as follows:

  1. Assess the capacity and readiness of the various institutions to play their respective roles in both disaster recovery as well as mitigating its risks

  2. Preparing a roadmap to develop the readiness to circumvent as well as manage the events viz floods, heatwaves, drought, water scarcity, lower crop yields, etc

The essential elements of any disaster mitigation, management and recovery program are as follows:

  • Strengthening those entities which are on the front-line of disasters, eg urban municipalities, electric and gas utility companies and railway networks. These are of prime importance given the impact on the population if they are disrupted

  • Putting codes and regulations in place to ensure the building of such infrastructure which is resilient to the effects of climate change. For example, Aceh (Indonesia) and Bangladesh built mosques on raised platforms which play the additional role of acting as refuge asylums in case of floods

  • Including in the education curricula at all levels (school, college, university) education and training in undertaking disaster recovery on a community level

  • Provision of emergency equipment and personnel mobilisation plans. The army has played an admirable role but the sheer magnitude of future events asks for the deployment of a broader cross-section of trained and equipped networks.

Generally speaking, nature-based solutions — such as planting trees next to streets, river-catchment management and sustainable urban-drainage solutions — are among the most attractive actions because of their impact on reducing risks and their feasibility. Climate risk directly affects people (health, livability, and workability), assets (businesses, homes and hospitals), and services (energy and food supply). Because different localities face different climate risks and have varying levels of vulnerability, adaptation actions will need to be improvised for which grass-root level participation is absolutely necessary.

The author is a former Director of Energy at Islamic Development Bank

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, August 1st, 2021

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