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Islamabad

January 7, 2011

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Climate change can stir Indo-Pak conflict

Climate change can stir Indo-Pak conflict

Islamabad
A public policy research arm of the US Congress has raised doubts that climate change could act as a ‘threat multiplier’ and has potential to stoke conflict between nuclear-armed states of Pakistan and India.
Congressional Research Service (CRS) in its 2010 Report on ‘Security and the Environment in Pakistan’ prepared for members and committees of the Congress stated that climate change has been projected to increase the variability of monsoons, decrease the predictability of precipitation, exacerbate water-stress in arid and semi-arid regions, and further salt-water intrusion of coastal freshwater supplies.
The report said under climate change predictions, the eventual loss of glacier storage may significantly alter water available in the Indus River for use in Pakistan. It said the combination of environmental degradation; anticipated future impacts of climate change and increasing demographic pressure are likely to place significant stress on many developing nations across the globe in the years ahead.
“Western Himalayan glaciers are projected to continue their retreat from the next half century, increasing Indus River flows and flooding. These initial increases in river flows would likely to be followed by decreased river flows as the glacial melt decreases as the glaciers disappear,” it said. A 2010 Dutch study found that melt water from the Himalaya accounts for 60% of the water in the Indus River. The study also found that projected temperature, rainfall and snow projections would lead to 8.4% decrease in upstream water flow into the Indus by 2050 that would threaten the food security of those dependent on the river for irrigation.
The report said environmental crises such as water scarcity; soil depletion and natural disasters can intensify conflict or stress and potentially contribute to national security issues.
It said, “Drought can stress water supplies along the Indus River and potentially exacerbate tensions between Pakistan and India and can further lead to reduced hydropower supplies and catalyse protests in areas experiencing rolling blackouts, and out course contribute to economic stresses in Pakistan ‘s agricultural regions, where the majority of Pakistanis live.”
The report also referred to a statement by President Asif Ali Zardari in which he said, “The water crisis in Pakistan is directly linked to relations with India. Resolution could prevent an environmental catastrophe in South Asia, but failure to do so could fuel the fires of discontent that lead to extremism and terrorism.” As the potential effects of environmental degradation and climate change on Pakistan’s and many other nations’ security become better understood, there may be greater impetus for the United States to assess international climate change mitigation and adaptation frameworks.
It pointed out, “Pakistan has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world and currently has approximately 4% of its original forested area intact. Loss of forests has led to soil erosion and altered ecosystems in the region.” The projected effects of climate change in Pakistan range from increased periods of drought and low water supplies to sea level rise and associated saltwater intrusion. Many of these environmental stresses have potential socio-economic and political consequences for Pakistan.
The report examined the potentially destabilising effect that, when combined with Pakistan’s demographic trends and limited economic development, water scarcity, limited arable land, and food security may have on an already radicalised internal and destabilised international political-security environment.
It stated environmental factors could expand the ranks of the dispossessed in Pakistan, which could lead to greater recruitment for radical Islamist groups operating in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Larger numbers of dispossessed people in Pakistani political system and possibly add impetus to a return to military rule or more bellicose posture towards India. It further said Pakistan is subject to both demand-induced scarcity and structural scarcity. Demand-induced scarcity stems from Pakistan’s growing population and per capita use of resource. Structural scarcity stems from the inequitable distribution and use of natural resources in Pakistan, stemming from social inequality.

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