KARACHI, Dec 14: Changes in weather conditions over the past two decades have aggravated the miseries of coastal communities living below the poverty line. Besides, the existing nexus between political and economic elites who tend to take undue privileges by controlling resources make matters even worse, says a report published by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P).

The report is titled ‘Community-based vulnerability assessment’ and was released on Friday as part of a five-year project funded by the European Commission. The project ‘Building capacity on climate change adaptation in coastal areas of Pakistan’ is being undertaken in partnership with the Leadership for Environment and Development Pakistan and the WWF-UK.

Citing international reports highlighting Pakistan’s high vulnerability to climate change, the report states that Pakistan is listed among the top 10 severely-affected countries.

“The devastation experienced by the country in three consecutive floods, changes in monsoon pattern, the lack of coastal resilience to cyclones (Yemyin 2007, Phet 2011) and storm surges make it clear that Pakistan is extremely vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events,” says the report.

The WWF study focuses on the extent of damage incurred to Kharo Chan and Keti Bundar areas in Thatta district, and Jiwani in Gwadar district, and the threats being faced by residents. It also lists a number of response strategies that can be implemented to minimise the damage.

A total of 17 villages were surveyed and more than 900 households were interviewed during fishing and non-fishing seasons and the people were found either exclusively dependent on fisheries or agriculture, or both.

The report said that everyone who participated in the focus group discussions commented that the fish catch had decreased drastically in past few years and attributed it to various factors such as over-fishing, pollution, use of small mesh-sized nets and decline in the flow of freshwater. The people also unanimously agreed that storms had become more frequent and intense.

According to the study, 99 per cent of the households interviewed in Sindh and Balochistan agreed that the pattern of weather was changing for the past 10 years or the past 25 years in some cases.

The people interviewed for the study characterised the changes in weather by the peaks and troughs of winter and summer. Almost all the participants agreed that summers had become longer and hotter.

The women were observed to connect fluctuations in temperature with a surge in illnesses. Many of them said that they didn’t visit the doctor unless it was absolutely necessary because they couldn’t afford it and it was a time-consuming effort.

Referring to the socio-economic baseline study, the report states that poverty and illiteracy is higher in Kharo Chan and Keti Bunder as compared to Jiwani. Nearly 50 per cent of the sampled households in Kharo Chan and 40 per cent in Keti Bunder fell below the poverty line, it adds.

The report says that respondents from Thatta and Gwadar complained that water scarcity, soil infertility and change in rainfall pattern had made it difficult for farmers to deduce the right time for plantation and harvest.

Moreover, it says, crops which could be successfully grown in the past are difficult to cultivate now. The cost of farming is increasing while the crops have become a liability because of the weather. The changes in weather pattern and temperature make it difficult for the locals to predict weather, consequently affecting their ability to cope with it. “There are no guarantees of return on investment,” the report states. “Subsistence farmers face greater debts and live in fear of losing their land and livelihood.”

The study recommends that vulnerability to climate change can be reduced by widespread awareness of the impact of climate and natural hazards while improving disaster management and civic infrastructure. It also recommends building basic infrastructure and storm shelters, making fishermen aware about sustainable fishing, introducing new crop varieties, harvesting water for agriculture and establishing early warning systems.