NATURE has gone on the offensive, for we have been jabbing away at the climate for far too long, and it is raining kidney punches. Resorting to poetic licence and romanticising harsh realities is what poets often do. In one such moment, poet Ishrat Afreen wrote:
(How pretty appear the hands picking cotton: they seem like metaphors of love of the soil).
It is hard to tell if Ms Afreen ever ventured into the cotton-growing fields. The heat is enough to drive ordinary beings out of their ‘cotton-pickin’ minds. While a 2012 World Bank report, Turn Down the Heat, warns us about rising global temperatures and determines a rise of four degrees Celsius as the redline beyond which the oceans boil over and Earth becomes uninhabitable, we obsess about redlines at Zaman Park.
Local television shows and vloggers would have us believe that the law-enforcement agencies raiding a suspect’s home in his absence is the height of state callousness. It is left to a foreign news agency like Reuters to report that women pick cotton at temperatures exceeding 50°C in the baking fields of Jacobabad, Sindh, regularly.
Overexploitation of groundwater around Quetta and global warming have destroyed fruit orchards around the valley; rampaging forest fires caused mainly by rising temperatures have wreaked havoc on pine nut forests in the rest of Balochistan. Both have depleted means of livelihood.
Rising temperatures and melting glaciers can submerge Karachi by 2060.
Have you ever heard of an international athlete, who represented her country not in one but two sports, resorting to illegal immigration across continents? Faced with the double whammy of economic hardship and ethnic discrimination, this is exactly what Shahida Raza of Quetta did recently. She drowned off the coast of Italy in February. That she was reduced to such desperate measures, despite having represented Pakistan on both the hockey and football teams, is not considered the height of state callousness because she belonged to the persecuted Shia Hazara community.
While traditional and social media in Pakistan continued to focus on leaked audio-video tapes and their resultant pain and pleasure points, the New York Times reported on Ms Raza’s fate.
An optimistic take on the economic and political crises caused mainly by poor leadership over the decades leads us to believe that land, being inanimate, will endure, and future generations can build a more equitable society. Unfortunately, this is not a universal truth. While some regions on Earth may fare better in the face of climate change, the fate of others may already be sealed. The entire Maldives and large swathes of Bangladesh are at severe risk of going under water before the end of the century.
The rising temperatures and the melting glaciers in both the Hindukush and Himalayan ranges can submerge Karachi by 2060. Elfatih Eltahir, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, has warned in a study published in Science Advances that if temperatures continue to rise unchecked, most of South Asia will become uninhabitable by 2100 due to the unbearable heat and the crop failures caused by it.
According to a 2022 study, the world already loses 677 billion manpower hours a year owing to the heat that makes outside labour impossible. This translates to a loss of productivity equal to $2 trillion a year. South Asia depends on its overseas labour for a large chunk of its foreign remittances.
A large segment of it comes from the Middle East, including the Gulf states — a region beset with challenges of overreliance on hydrocarbons and extremely hot climes. While policymakers in the South Asian capitals gloat over remittances, the labourers are losing their kidneys sweating away in sheikhdoms at an alarming rate.
It is scientifically proven that extreme heat causes excessive sweating, and that, combined with the lack of or delayed access to drinking water, it causes saturation of insoluble salts that turn into kidney stones. Lack of economic opportunity at home, worsened by the climatic conditions, deprives migrant workers of any negotiating power for better work conditions abroad.
Devaluation of local currencies and skyrocketing prices lend further attraction to earning in more stable currencies, but the physical and emotional price paid in return is not captured in any index. It is befitting to end this piece with a couplet by a gem of a poet, Ata Shad, who also happens to be from Balochistan, M. Raza’s home:
(Standing atop whirlwind pillars; we dream of reaching the sky).
The writer is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.
Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2023