Wednesday September 27, 2023

Preemptive action

September 30, 2022

It is Pakistan’s fault that it has never prioritized climate change and environmental issues since its creation 75 years ago. Whether the climate crisis is due to natural calamities or mistakes made by humans, it is now negatively impacting the national economy, and the people at the bottom are bearing the brunt of such effects.

Pakistan is among the countries that make strategies after having witnessed the loss of life and damage of property caused by large-scale disasters. Excessive rainfall is one of the dire consequences of climate change facing the world, and Pakistan’s neighbouring countries have not been affected by such terrible situations as severely as Pakistan. Even in Afghanistan, people trapped in flood water were rescued. India managed to reserve water in its timely built dams and barrages. Bangladesh, which was once the victim of the worst floods, is now providing humanitarian aid to Pakistan.

Surprisingly, we define ‘rescue services’ as a task to find bodies of unfortunate people who lose their lives in a disaster. If we had followed in the footsteps of other countries and properly planned the trajectory of the water of our rivers, which originates from the northern regions and passes through various regions including Sindh, there would not have been such a disastrous situation.

Pakistan has been included in the list of countries severely affected by climate change for the last two decades. According to the Global Climate Risk Index, Pakistan is the eighth most vulnerable country affected by climate change. Environmental experts frequently warn us about the dangers of pollution, rapid population growth and deforestation, but no government has ever shown seriousness in this regard. We did not learn anything from the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods; the consequences of which we have to suffer in the form of destruction caused by the heavy rains and floods in 2022. There is a serious risk of natural disasters in the future as well.

A World Food Program report has identified six major international conflicts that can cause disaster at a huge level across the globe. A large population of the world, including developed countries, may face food shortages, non-availability of clean drinking water and energy crisis. At the diplomatic level, the world is moving towards a new cold war in which, as in the past, some countries are supporting Russia, while the US and Western countries are with Ukraine. Similarly, tensions between China and the US are increasing over the issue of Taiwan.

I believe that the most vital challenge we are facing today is to prioritize our national interests. Although provincial governments, after the 18th Amendment, are autonomous in most of their affairs, we should devise a joint strategy to deal with disasters at the national level. Last month, we celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Independence with great passion and zeal, but I would be happier if our rulers had given us a road map for national development and prosperity like the one that Indian PM Narendra Modi has announced across the border.

India, 17 years ago, constituted a special force called the ‘National Disaster Response Force (NDRF)’ to counter the challenges emerging due to threatening disaster situations under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Reportedly, the NDRF, operating under the National Disaster Management Authority (India) with the Indian prime minister as chairperson, is a force of 16 battalions, organized on paramilitary lines. These NDRF battalions, in consultation with state authorities, are located at different locations in the country based on the disaster threat levels.

I think that a regular force should also be formed in Pakistan to deal with natural disasters, which aims to rescue people in distress, provide food to them and ensure relief activities. Undoubtedly, the real threat we face in the 21st century is in the form of natural disasters and vulnerabilities.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

He tweets @RVankwani