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January 14, 2018

Climate risks


January 14, 2018

Pakistan has long known that its geography means that it will be disproportionately affected by anthropogenic climate change but we are now getting some idea of just how destructive it will be. A study in the scientific journal Science Advances has calculated that the country’s risk of heavy flooding will double by 2040. As a country that is already prone to flooding – and spectacularly ill-equipped to deal with it – such an increase could be catastrophic. Dealing with climate change requires both going on the offensive by drastically reducing worldwide emissions and defensive measures to improve our ability to deal with extreme weather events. Turning back the tide of climate change cannot be done by one country alone. It requires every country to buy-in and for the largest polluters – the US, China and India – to take the brunt of the action. All three countries have taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint and are gradually shifting to renewable sources of energy but at their current trajectory they will be doing little more than delaying the inevitable. The Paris Agreement, while a step in the right direction, was too modest in its aims to have the impact that is needed, and with the US pulling out of the agreement it may end up being dead on arrival.

Since there is little Pakistan can do to drive the international community to action, we need to take immediate defensive measures to protect against regular flooding. Our experiences in Sindh, which has suffered regular monsoon flooding over the last decade, show that we are nowhere near ready. There were no evacuation plans in place for areas that were hit by flooding, disaster management authorities were unable to provide food and relief for days after the floods hit and there has been no planning to raise dykes. In Karachi, we have made the problem worse by greedily reclaiming land. The government has shown no appetite to take on the building mafia and ensure structures meet the enhanced safety standards that will be needed to protect against climate change. Around the country deforestation continues apace. Already a water-insecure nation, we are projected to have an emergency on our hands in the next two decades as the Indus and its tributaries dry up. Yet, beyond lip service, we have done nothing to prepare for the calamity that awaits.

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