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Flood crisis highlighted at Cancun talks

December 09, 2010

CANCUN (Mexico), Dec 8: The Pakistani delegation held a side event at the UN climate talks in Cancun on Tuesday to draw attention to the “World's most devastating floods: Pakistan's extreme climate event”. The event was organised by LEAD-Pakistan and was attended by a number of journalists and NGO officials.

The two parliamentarians from Pakistan sent by the PPP government, Samina Paganwalla from Gujrat and Noor Ul Haq Qadri from Fata, were also present on the stage, but they did not speak on the occasion. The event began with a documentary made by Serendip Productions showing moving scenes of the devastation caused this summer by the increasingly erratic monsoon. In the documentary, Minister of Environment Hameedullah Jan Afridi, who also spoke later at the side event about Pakistan's vulnerability to climate change, noted that “Pakistan will not be a silent witness. We need to act now”.

Former minister of state for environment Malik Amin Aslam who has been participating in these talks for a number of years, stated that “We are fighting two wars in Pakistan: the war against terrorism and the war against climate change”. The science has become clearer now and climate change is a physical reality, however the world community is “caught in the complex and intricate web” of climate change negotiations and can't move forward. In his view, “We are one of the lowest emitters of green house gas emissions in the world, but we are facing the brunt of climate change given our location in the glacial melting zone and with 5 rivers running down our spine.” He said that climate related disasters had cost Pakistan 4 billion dollars in the last few years and warned that more climate refugees without hope for the future would result in a breeding ground for terrorism. “We have to find a way out of this mess (of the negotiations).”

The next speaker was Qamar Uz Zaman who is the former head of the Met Office in Pakistan and currently preparing Pakistan's new climate change policy. He explained how this summer's torrential rains were caused when the normal monsoon system from the Bay of Bengal met a cold westerly system over the mountainous region of Pakistan causing over 300mm of rain to fall in just three days. “This area does not normally receive such rainfall. The glacier melt combined with the heaviest rainfall in the history of the country, causing one-fifth of the country to go under water and affecting 20 million people.”

The floods took around 25 days to travel from the north to the south of the country, causing destruction along their path. “If you look back at this year, we had drought in January, high temperatures in March which affected our crops, a massive heat wave in June which broke a 50-year record and then the heavy rainfall and floods in July/August.

The trend is of extreme events and these are indicators of how climate change is impacting Pakistan and indeed this entire region.”