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October 16, 2012

Women on the frontline of climate change

 
October 16, 2012

Karachi
In a tattered mud-and-twigs hut, some 16 kilometers away from Jati Tehsil in Thatta district, Hanifa lights up her cigarette confidently telling us she can handle a natural disaster if it comes. She sounds pretty brave as she narrates her tales of survival from a series of natural disasters in the last two decades.
About 65-year-old, Hanifa lives in Ismail Thaheemore village, a three and a half hour drive from Karachi. She escaped the 2010 floods in her village narrowly, packing her bags and scooting to safety with her family of twenty as the waters rose. This, she learnt at a disaster risk reduction training by an international NGO working in the area. The training was a follow up of the 2005 floods to make people less vulnerable to disasters. “Even if a flood comes, I will not be scared because my family will not be washed away like the others’ in the village. I know what to do.”
Over the last two decades, Pakistan has witnessed some extreme weather conditions. Annual monsoon rains have been erratic and the temperatures have soared above the normal.
These changing times got acknowledged when in August 2010, the United Nations General Assembly session passed a resolution to strengthen emergency relief to Pakistan. It says the unprecedented floods reflected “the adverse impact of climate change and the growing vulnerability of countries to climate change.” In its 2007 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that “it is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent.”
IPCC chief R.K. Pachauri told Inter Press Service that while it would be scientifically incorrect to link any single set of events with human-induced climate change, “the floods of the kind that hit Pakistan may become more frequent and more intense in the future in this and other parts of the world.”
In 2010, the World Meteorological Organization made a similar

assessment. “While a longer time range is required to establish whether an individual event is attributable to climate change, the sequence of current events matches IPCC projections of more frequent and more intense extreme weather events due to global warming,” it said. Its director Ghassem Asrar said that higher Atlantic Ocean temperatures contributed to intense monsoon rains that precipitated the flooding in Pakistan. The WMO has also found that strong monsoon rains led to the highest water levels in 110 years in the Indus River in the northern part of Pakistan, based on past records available from 1929.
“We can’t say every year things will be the same. Sometimes Sindh receives widespread erratic rainfall and sometimes it is heavy and localized, thus resulting in flash floods,” Touseef Alam, Chief Meteorologist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) said.
“The 2011 monsoons were 72 per cent above normal across Pakistan and the fifth heaviest monsoon rainfall during the last 51 years,” he said adding that in Sindh itself, the rainfall was 248.2 percent, exceptionally above normal. Normal levels at PMD are calculated over a period spanning almost thirty years from 1961 to 1990, he said.
“Also last year (2011) in December and January, it snowed in areas where we had never seen snowfall, such as the Margalla Hills. On the other hand, the highest temperature for summer was recorded in Larkana at 53 degreess celcius,” the Met chief said.
Alam explained that such drastically variant patterns over these long periods of time can only be attributed to climate change. “We have to understand that global warming is a phenomenon and just like Maldives wasn’t at risk some 15 years back, today, the lowest lying country in the world faces threats from increasing sea levels. We too have to be prepared for the changes to come,” he said.
Fisherman in the coastal areas of Sindh also feel more vulnerable after the 1999 cyclone which left about 700 people dead and over 4,000 missing, believed to have been swept into he sea.
Rab Dino, a fisherman from the coastal area of Kalka Chani in Thatta district, says he is very cautious of the changing colour of the sea post the cyclone. The 60-year-old has been a fisherman for more than two-thirds of his life. “At first, we would stretch our limits, but now I feel scared and warn others not to venture into the sea if the situation is bad,” he says. “Until now only Allah has been able to save us, but maybe if we are trained we will be able to help ourselves better,” he adds.
Dino also mentions the decrease in fish catch over the years along with depletion in the variety of the catch. “Previously fish was in abundance, now I don’t even catch ten per cent of what I used to catch 20-30 years back,” the fisherman laments. His concerns can be attributed to a number of reasons he is unaware of, marine pollution being one of the primary.
Low-lying coastal cities in the South Asian region also remain at the forefront of impacts. These cities include Karachi, Mumbai and Dhaka — all of which have at one time or the other faced the brunt of environmental stress.
These concerns are exemplified by the July 2005 floods in Mumbai caused by a record level of precipitation within 24 hours, which brought life to a standstill and resulted in economic losses of Rs 90 billion. Similarly, a recent study authored by Nigel Wright published in the Natural Hazards journal and conducted by scientists from the United Kingdom and Netherlands found that Dhaka is the third most vulnerable city to flooding, according to the Coastal City Flood Vulnerability Index. And Karachi’s periodic rainfall has been a disaster in itself leading to a civic mess in the city.
Pakistan is vulnerable to disaster risks from a range of hazards including avalanches, cyclones/storms, droughts, earthquakes, epidemics, floods, glacial lake outbursts, landslides, pest attacks, river erosion and tsunami.
In its 2012 Needs Report, the National Disaster Management Authority identified nine priority areas within its framework to establish and strengthen policies, institutions and capacities over the next five years. These included institutional and legal arrangements for disaster risk management, Hazard and vulnerability assessment, awareness, planning, local level programming, early warning systems, mainstreaming DRR into development, emergency response and capacity development for post-disaster recovery.
The NDMA has already embarked upon a five year development programme to implement the above nine priority areas. For the purpose, the NDMA in collaboration with international donor agencies, has already secured commitments for the provision of 58 million dollars.
How far the plan remains effective is a big question mark as various criticism has been made by the beneficiaries of such programmes.
Many international and local NGO’s have also stepped up disaster risk reduction and adaptation efforts in Pakistan post 2005. These include Oxfam, Unicef, UNDP, Human Habitat, SDC, Caritas, Church World Service, OCHA, USAID, European Commission, MuslimHands to name a few. These work in collaboration with local organizations like Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, NRSP, SRSP to facilitate the people.
In the light of the current situation, adaptation and mitigation measures need to be taken up on war footing. Cyclones, sea storms and tsunamis will now be more frequent than ever before because of the global climate change and we know it. The need of the hour is to modify existing resources to adapt to climate change and to employ different approaches to empower communities to lessen the loss of life and property.