IT is interesting how time and circumstances mould and recreate language and idiom. Before global warming and climate change became concerns, ‘thaw’ only had a positive connotation; maybe it still does, but just between the freezer and the microwave oven.
‘Breaking the ice’ always evoked positive emotions, signalling the transition from icy indifference between strangers to warm interest in one another. The horrifying frequency with which one hears about the breaking of the Arctic ice sheet, the calving of glaciers at the Poles, the thawing of snow on Everest, and the great Himalayan glacial melt, makes one wonder how long it will be before ‘cold shoulder’ does not give so much of a negative vibe. How entire humanity’s fate is interconnected can also be evinced from everyday idioms. When Karachi experiences a little relief from the heat it is credited to ‘Quetta winds’. In Quetta, these are called ‘Kandahari’, and in Kandahar ‘Siberian’.
Not too long ago, a journalist finally asked a reasonable question: “What about the water crisis in Pakistan?” Unfortunately, the question was directed at former president Asif Zardari, whose response stumped the journo: “Tu or mein belcha lay kar ikhatey chalen gey glacier par” (You and I will go together with a spade to the glacier). He may have meant it as a deflection, but the reference to the spade was a clear giveaway that he thought more glacier melt will solve the water issue for the tailenders in Sindh who suffer from inequitable distribution, absolute disregard for water management and deeply entrenched and vertically integrated corruption in the irrigation administration.
According to a World Bank report, The Indus Basin of Pakistan: The Impacts of Climate Risks on Water and Agriculture, only about 15 per cent of water flow in the Indus Basin emanates from glacier melt; the rest depends on snowmelt that occurs below 5,000 metres. Any variations in this equation will be driven by changes in winter precipitation and temperatures. The report dates back a decade; new data to strengthen these assertions or disprove them should now be available. However, there are multiple challenges. First, high-altitude monitoring is extremely difficult and requires technological sophistication and a commitment to fighting climate change.
Only 15pc of water flow in the Indus Basin is said to be from glacier melt.
Secondly, we have sworn not to benefit from anything happening across our eastern border; otherwise, similar work on the Indian side of the Himalayas, at a glacier called Chhota Shigri in the Pir Panjal range, Himachal Pradesh, could come in handy. The entire world is learning from it while we await the much-derided IFIs to help us set up monitoring centres for glaciers, wind velocity, and solar irradiance mapping for environment protection and renewable energy. What are numerous Pakistani scientific and space agencies doing, you may ask? If their output is anything to go by, they might as well be ‘spaced out’.
Since nothing gets our attention like the word ‘security’, let us look at climate change from the national security perspective. If floods at a 15pc glacier melt rate wreak havoc in the country on a regular basis, imagine what will happen when more ice melt combines forces with further snowmelt. The geostrategic location of Pakistan has been the pivotal point for the national security-obsessed policy lot. The ‘warm waters’ that Russia ostensibly wanted to get to, prompted us to get embroiled in safeguarding ‘strategic depth’ beyond the Durand Line. Climate change is reducing whatever little nuisance value these notions had.
The war in Ukraine according to Mr Putin has been caused by Nato’s expansionary designs. The US and its allies want to expand the alliance to gain further proximity to Russia’s land borders and its strategic assets. Why? Do countries like Finland and Sweden bring technological knowhow that the current Nato members do not possess, or does it help strike a better balance between land and maritime power in the region? Russia and China have been trying to establish themselves in the Far North for both military and commercial purposes, and so is the West. The melting Arctic ice sheet has spurred the race. Russia already has air, nuclear, and submarine superiority in the region.
Turkiye and Hungary have been resisting Nato’s expansion for different reasons. Now that Mr Erdogan has won the run-off polls, he is expected to be more flexible on the issue. While the scientists mull over bubble wrapping the Arctic to slow the ice melt, their political bosses see an opportunity to create a northern bubble with Sweden’s inclusion to keep an eye on Russia and China. The climatic disaster is approaching in more ways than we imagined, and unfortunately, not at a glacial speed.
The writer is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.
Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2023