ISLAMABAD: Haidar Ali, a political activist from Hunza district of Pakistan's northern Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region, has many sleepless nights in summer due to fear of the bursting of a lake formed some 10km away from his home because of a surging glacier named Shishper.
“The glacier surged due to climate change, like many other glaciers in the Karakoram mountain range. The lake formed by the glacier surge poses a high risk to residential settlements like my home in summer,” Ali told Xinhua. “Since its formation in 2018, it has burst twice in summer and we are scared that the same may happen again to wash us away in its gushing water.”
According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department, the 12-km-long Shishper glacier, covering an area of almost 24.9 square km, surged with very high velocity of up to 43.3 meters a day in 2018, and intercepted glacier-melt water from its neighbouring glacier Muchuhur, resulting in the formation of the glacier dammed lake in November 2018, with the risk of glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF).
“The real tragedy with us is that we did not contribute much to the climate change, yet we will be the first one to get devoured by nature if it turns violent. Pakistanis should realise that climate change is a serious issue and if they do not pay attention to it right now, everyone will be vulnerable and helpless in the face of natural calamities,” Ali said.
Pakistan has been recurrently affected by catastrophes and is ranked among the most affected countries to climate change in both the long-term index and in the index for the respective year, according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021.
Apart from glacier melt, Pakistan's agricultural sector is also being badly affected by the climate change, especially in the areas where agriculture is dependent on rains including Chakwal district of the country’s eastern Punjab province.
“Wheat and peanut are the major crops in Chakwal. We don't have any canal irrigation system in the district and 90 percent of farmers depend on rains for their crops. Over the past three years, wheat production in the area has been badly affected because of hostile weather conditions,” farmer Hamid Iqbal said. He said that over the past few years there was very little rainfall during the sowing season due to which the crops could not get enough water to grow. Whereas, during the harvest season around April-May, heavy rainfall and hailstorm lashed the crops, making farmers lose a major share of their yield.
Similarly, the country's cash crop cotton faces the same fate in Punjab and Sindh provinces due to abrupt changes in weather, discouraging farmers to sow it and putting pressure on textile, the major export-oriented industry of the country.
Pakistan's Minister for Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam said that climate change has posed multiple socio-economic challenges due to environmental impact. “Our monsoon patterns are shifting the timing and the frequency of rainfall. The geographical distribution of rainfall has shifted. It is shifting so fast that our agriculture cannot adapt to it,” he said. “In our South we have cyclonic activity happening dangerously close to our big cities. We have this new phenomenon of cloudbursts over our main cities. In addition to all of this, we also have very strong heat waves which are coming in Pakistan.”Being the global host of this year’s World Environment Day with a theme of “Ecosystem Restoration”, Pakistan is trying hard to educate its people to embrace nature and make it their friend by investing in it, the minister said.
The Pakistani government is taking stringent measures to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change and Prime Minister Imran Khan is himself heading the campaign to “save the country for future generations by addressing the climate change issue.”In order to address deforestation, Pakistan launched the Billion Tree Tsunami project in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 2014 and in 2018 its sphere was extended to the whole country with the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami programme.
Talking about the initiative, the minister on climate change said that a billion out of the 10 billion trees have already been planted while the remaining trees are expected to be planted till 2023. “We also announced the Protected Areas Initiative in Pakistan to protect our forests. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we established new national parks. So they are preserving the unique wilderness of Pakistan and also helping us fight climate change,” Aslam said.
In order to protect residential settlements from being hit by glacier lake bursts, the government has launched a project to install early warning systems of GLOF to educate people about the glacial melting-induced floods and preparation to ensure safe evacuation and less damage. “There is a lot to be done to stop the melting and surge of glaciers, but as an urgent measure, we have launched the initiative to have a beforehand knowledge of the calamity to save the residential communities from being a victim of disaster,” he added.
The country has also launched the Recharge Pakistan programme to increase water storage and recharge through wetlands, floodplains and hill-torrents management to build resilience of vulnerable communities through climate-adapted, community-based natural resource management.
Aslam said, “We are trying to turn the crisis into an opportunity through this programme. About 30 million acre feet of water is wasted from Pakistan annually, so under this programme we want to divert that flood water towards our degraded wetland systems so that the wetlands can get restored, and also our groundwater aquifer can get recharged.”
In order to control carbon emissions, the government has decided to convert 30 percent of its traffic to electricity from fuel till 2030, and in this connection electric motorbikes and passenger three-wheelers have already been launched, while four-wheeler vehicles are scheduled to be launched by the end of this year, he said. The country's initiative to repair nature has also created a large number of green jobs, including 100,000 jobs created during the Covid-19 lockdowns, he said.
Though the country's share in the world's carbon emission is less than one percent, experts believe that inadequate measures to protect the environment showed some very serious consequences over the past few years, but the situation is likely to get back to normal when the government's efforts start bearing fruit.