Pakistan has been battered by flash floods that have claimed the lives of nearly 1,500 people and one million animals, including cattle. Between 1999 and 2018, Pakistan ranked as the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change.
A low literacy rate has made Pakistani society hostile towards animals and pets. A large segment of society believes that dogs, in particular, bring bad luck.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited Pakistan in September and appealed the world for generous relief efforts and cooperation to mitigate the challenges faced by the country. He has called the floods a ‘monsoon on steroids’ and said that rich polluters have turned a blind eye to the country that has been victimized by their reckless emissions.
Some countries including the US, UK, Canada, France, Italy, UAE and Turkey have sent aid to help the country repair the damage caused. Several relief items including tents, medicines, dry food, clothes and other essential items have been donated. But the most vulnerable members of the ecosystem – animals and livestock – have escaped the attention of almost everyone.
Lumpy skin disease, an infection that causes nodules on the skin of cattle, was already rife in the southern parts of Pakistan, and now the cataclysmic floods have further exacerbated the misery of these animals. The floods have already washed away several crops and agricultural produce. The shortage of food and lack of medical facilities are not only making the lives of the flood-affected people miserable but also creating difficulties for animals.
Climate change is also affecting migratory birds that travel long distances to escape the harsh winter, flying all the way from Siberia through the international migration route known as the Indus Flyway, over the Karakorum, Hindu Kash, and Suleiman ranges (Koh Sulemain) along the Indus, down to the delta.
These migratory birds include ducks and waders, geese, teals, houbara bustard, cranes, pintail, mallard, spoon bills, raptors, and passerines such as warblers, pipits and buntings. Some species, including the common and Demoiselle cranes, snipe and pelican enter through Kurram Agency, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
More floods are likely to cause severe damage to the natural habitat of these migratory birds. Unethical hunting, pollution in the wetlands and anthropogenic structures abutting the wetlands are some of the threats faced by these birds.
Bird hunting in Pakistan is one of the favourite sports of young royals from the Middle East. In 2014, a foreign national was reported to have killed 2,000 houbara bustards even though he had the permit to hunt only 100 birds. Pakistan keeps ignoring such violations because of its economic woes – it relies on friendly countries for financial bailouts. Such economic compulsions pose threats to the safety of migratory birds, especially houbara bustard, in this country.
Some duck species are also facing massive de-population, including white-eyed pochard, marbled teal and garganey. Cranes, popular for their size and unique calls, and complex behaviour, are the favourite prey of hunters.
Animal cruelty is also rife in Pakistan where thousands of dogs get brutally culled every year by state authorities, particularly in parts of Sindh, to curb the uncontrolled population of stray dogs. Government officials do not allocate a sufficient amount of funds for neutering and other humane ways of controlling the population of stray dogs.
Poaching is also rampant in Pakistan with pangolins fast losing their population. Pangolin scales are high in demand for medicinal use. Gilgit-Baltistan is also home to the trophy hunting of ibexes and ‘markhors’, both rare species of the goat family.
There are other financial issues that indirectly affect animals. Pakistan sets aside a huge part of its annual budget for non-development expenses. The huge gap between its exports and imports has caused a massive budget deficit that in turn has brought the nation to the verge of default. Pakistan, a few months back, had to restrict its imports to balance its foreign reserves. As a result, the import of pet food was also banned. There is no local production of pets’ vaccines and their dry food. Thus, the ban was likely to cause a shortage of pets’ medical supplies and dry food. It rightly attracted backlash from pet owners that forced the government to lift the ban. But now the prices of pet food items have skyrocketed.
Pakistan has not been able to build enough reservoirs to store the water that travels in the monsoon season from the peaks of Himalayas to the highlands of KP, onto the plains of Punjab and finally entering the Arabian Sea. Discord among the four provinces of the country has swayed the focus of the dam-building process from a techno-engineering challenge to political brandishing. Sindh has repeatedly expressed its reservations that the coastal line of the province is gradually submerging in the Arabian sea, and the building of dams will further accelerate the land erosion process as the flow of water will be crippled, which is a natural deterrent against the submerging of the coastal line in the sea. Distrust, among the provinces, in water distribution resources, is also one of the reasons Pakistan does not have enough water reservoirs. With heavy rainfall this year, the country’s agricultural produce has been badly damaged. This has caused a famine-like situation for humans, cattle and livestock.
People living in the developed world are not fully aware of the damage caused by the apocalyptic floods in Pakistan and other vulnerable countries, which was triggered by their extravagant and environmentally insensitive lifestyle. Pakistan cannot take enough measures on its own to counter the challenges posed by climate change.
It is time the biggest carbon polluters took effective measures to deal with the climate challenge. Their failure to do so will pose threats to humans and animals alike.
The writer is a freelance contributor. He can be reached at: awais_anwer1hotmail.com