Climate adaptation

Published August 1, 2023

FOR Pakistan, searing heatwaves, severe squalls, hunger and displacement make climate change a hot topic. The country, with record temperatures and rainfall, is in unmapped territory as climate crises add more complexity to life and livelihood. Despite contributing under 1pc of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is in the midst of a perfect storm as one of the most intensely affected areas. So, extreme weather — last year’s floods in Sindh and Punjab and the current Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab tumult — is merely a foretaste of the punishing seasons ahead. Studies provide ominous conclusions: glacier loss, landslides, frequent saturation, droughts and acute heat. Perhaps, last week’s National Adaptation Plan from the Ministry of Climate Change, if put into practice with sincerity, can provide some respite from the elements. The document states: “Effective DRM [disaster risk management] requires enhancing the stability, adaptability, recovery capacity, and sustainability of all relevant sectors. This entails a meticulous process of identifying vulnerabilities… . Subsequently, implementing sectoral adaptation strategies to mitigate these risks while fortifying the overall resilience of system and service provision is paramount.” It also scans the more intricate aspects, such as health, imperilled by “heat stress”, disease, lack of amenities, as well as the blow to reproductive well-being: “It is important to stress that the adverse effects of climate change are not experienced equally by the population[;] women, the poor and landless are particularly impacted. Women are disproportionately vulnerable because their socioeconomic status is not equal to [that] of men… .”

A policy shift from impact and cause to adaptation and precaution is our burning need. Poverty, displacement, poor sustenance, damaged cropland, unsafe water, pollution, and other factors have increased mortality and morbidity rates. Little surprise then, that Pakistan is ranked 99th out of 121 countries on the Global Hunger Index, and “with a score of 26.1”, its hunger level is grievous. Also, it was fortunate that Cyclone Biparjoy, which caused brutal hot spells, dust storms and cloudbursts in southern Sindh, did not hit Pakistan, or else a frail municipal administration and scarce logistical provisions would have been swept away.

It does not help that recent research claims the hottest summer so far may be “the coolest one left” and that the UN chief has called this “the era of global boiling”. For these crucial reasons, all dispensations must treat climate vulnerability as a national emergency; investment should pour into drainage systems, dams, waterways, warning mechanisms, and pre-disaster management. Moreover, flooding dangers can be cut down with reforestation and preservation of green cover, including mangroves. An adaptation strategy cannot be set in motion without superlative human-centric climate management systems and manpower. We can avoid the worst if policymakers hit the ground running. The sun has to sustain not sear life.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2023

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