Saturday September 18, 2021

Prioritising climate change

July 30, 2021

Heavy rains once again appear to be wreaking havoc up and down the country, from the destruction of agricultural lands, roads and bridges in Gilgit-Baltistan to the unfortunate loss of lives from flash floods in many areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad. With the Met Dept predicting more rainfall across the country this monsoon season, disaster management agencies have issued landslide and flood warnings from Gilgit-Baltistan to Rawalpindi. Other than the threat alerts, have vulnerable communities been provided adequate protection and a safe place to head to in case of an emergency, especially slum residents most vulnerable in such situations? Citizens of Islamabad’s katchi abadis and sectors E-11 and D-12 would answer in the negative. On Wednesday, E-11 residents woke up to the worst flooding ever witnessed in the capital’s relatively posh new sector, leading to the inundation of scores of houses and commercial buildings, along with destruction of vehicles washed away by the gushing water – made all the more ferocious due to the diminishing of stormwater drains.

Most regrettably, a woman and her son drowned when the basement of their house was flooded and rescue workers could not reach on time. Though authorities managed to clear most clogged roads in the twin cities and alerted residents living alongside major rivers and streams, what cannot be condoned is the complete lack of oversight on part of civic authorities which fail to check illegal construction over stormwater drains. Had the CDA not hid behind jurisdiction issues and done its job properly from the outset, instead of looking the other way and letting E-11 become a free-for-all for builders and societies, perhaps this tragedy could have been averted.

The impact of climate change is being felt with increasing force all over the world, and states are responding with a variety of measures to protect their citizens and economies. However, climate scientists and environmentalists fear the situation will only get worse and spring up more surprises, such as the recent flash floods in Germany, as long as countries fail to unite on a shared goal of curbing carbon emissions. The UN Environment Programme notes that Pakistan is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, owing to its dependency on climate-sensitive sectors, such as agriculture, water, and natural resources. From development authorities to power companies, all branches of the government and private sector need to adapt measures to deal with extreme weather events which will only increase in frequency with the rise in global warming. While those at the helm – from the PM to the relevant ministry – acknowledge the country’s vulnerability to climate change and the need to plan development accordingly, there is little to no translation of their concerns on the ground, where projects are launched and structures erected according to will and without necessary environmental approvals. In March this year, with the assistance of the UN and Green Climate Fund, Pakistan began the two-year process of creating a National Adaptation Plan for building resilience to climate change. It aims to reduce vulnerabilities to climate impacts by creating comprehensive short- and long-term plans, including the integration of adaptation measures into national policy. This is likely not the first nor the last such donor-funded initiative. What such plans need to succeed are a responsive government and citizenry that prioritise climate change and environment over indifference and greed.