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October 2, 2018

Our climate conundrum


October 2, 2018

Ensconced deep in the heart of the Karakoram mountain range and straddled between India and China lies Gilgit-Baltistan. With its towering peaks and magnificent landscape, it offers a unique experience to visitors.

The region has four peaks that are above 8,000 metres and is called the ‘Third Pole’ for its span of glaciated areas that are only second in size to the polar region. Ironically, the communities that inhabit this land are experiencing a water scarcity. The changing climate is causing variations in the timing of snow and glacier melt, and unpredictability in the quantity and quality of water. The high altitude only permits single-cropping and limited options for diversification in agriculture. Livelihoods here depend on agriculture and livestock, and both are water-driven.

The remoteness of the area along with access and communication constraints discourages most NGOs from working in this region. The constitutional status of GB doesn’t afford its representatives the same opportunity for representation, and the lack of visibility of project outputs and low priority on the national radar also make development practitioners and donors shy away from engagement.

However, those who dare to enjoy a rare experience of exposure to the land and people never regret the decision. Corporate philanthropy and the private sector is mostly absent here, except for the Coca Cola Foundation (CCF) that has selected this region for it Water Replenishment and Stewardship projects. The interventions made by them have returned almost 5.5447 billion litres of water per annum to nature and the community. The fourth generation project of CCF aims to replenish 3.84 billion litres of water per annum. This is an example of best practice that needs to be emulated by other corporate entities.

The strategic location of this region demands that development benefits are delivered to the people on a priority basis to prevent disaffection and a feeling of alienation.

The climate is not the only thing that is changing in this region. The social dynamics are also undergoing a transformation. The youth who are exposed to education and have a firm grip on social media are becoming restless. They no longer agree with their elders, and conversations between them involve elders accusing young people of possessing raw aspirations and the youth referring to their elders as spent cartridges with no firepower. Such differences are an indication of the increasing gulf between the old and new generation. If this isn’t factored into policies, it can result in social discontent, with all its attendant implications.

The changing times require that development work is accelerated in the region and public, private and not-for-profit organisations coordinate and collaborate with each other to address the challenges faced by the people and help them cope with the emerging scenarios of climate change that are threatening their lives and livelihoods.

The risk of ignoring the needs and marginalisation of this region will pose a security threat and can result in social upheaval that will pit interest groups against each other in an effort to grab the limited and shrinking resources. In the age of technology and rapid gratification, the demands of the people must be met quickly.

Hopes are now higher with the promise of a new approach to governance and expectations of service delivery by an aspirational set of young people. Just as the tactics of yesteryears politicians are no longer acceptable, the new generation is also demanding change and is no longer willing to follow in the footstep of its passive and benevolent-minded elders. The degradation of the ecological integrity of this region will harm not only the local communities, but will also affect South Asia as a whole and impact the global planetary system.

Demographic shifts, which are already taking place, will be accelerated through the impacts of climate change and become a trigger for social conflicts with the potential to turn ugly and violent. The time for action is now, and neglect and delay will only aggravate the situation.

The writer is the chief executive officer of Mountain and Glacier Protection Organization, and the chief executive of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.

Email: [email protected]; [email protected]

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