On the brink

November 20, 2022

The ever-increasing population has pushed Pakistan to a climate crisis

On the brink


he world population hit 8 billion on November 15. The world is discussing the future of humanity in relation to the increasing population. For some, it will be a burden on resources and will lead to accelerating the existing climate crisis. For others this means 8 billion dreams and connecting that to the climate crisis is unjust and racist as countries mainly responsible for climate crisis are no longer facing population issues.

According to statistics shared by the UNFPA, the world’s population reached 8 billion on November 15. Half of the people that made up the increase from 7 billion in 2011 to 8 billion now are from Asia. Growing at an average annual rate of 1.9 percent, Pakistan is home to almost 3 percent of the world’s population. Nearly 3.6 children are born to a woman in the country on average.

Pakistan is among the eight countries where more than half of the increase in global population leading up to 2050 will be concentrated. These countries include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, and the United Republic of Tanzania.

On the other hand, millions of people have been affected by recent floods in Pakistan. The floods drowned a third of the country and claimed more than 1,700 lives, and destroyed homes, schools, health facilities, roads, bridges and other infrastructure. The floods condemned many already vulnerable families in rural and urban areas to even more acute hunger – “hunger so severe it threatens lives and livelihoods.”

Pakistan is ranked the 8th most affected country hardest hit by the climate crisis according to the Climate Risk Index. Yet the country has contributed less than half of one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In one of his recent statements, Chris Kaye, WFP’s country director in Pakistan, said, “The floods in Pakistan provide ample evidence of how the climate crisis is devastating lives, livelihoods and infrastructure. The heatwave over the summer saw Pakistan becoming the hottest place on the planet. Melting glaciers and parched ground conspired to make the monsoon infinitely more devastating.” He further said that the sad truth is that Pakistan – and other countries on the frontlines of the climate crisis – will continue to experience more extreme climate shocks and we need to prepare communities to weather the coming storm.

The post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA) put the total cost of floods at $30 billion. Agriculture, food, livestock and fisheries sectors were particularly hard-hit, with millions of acres of agricultural land under water and more than a million livestock killed. Stocks of food, seeds and valuable topsoil were washed away. Cotton, traditionally the top export, took a severe hit.

Pakistan is ranked the 8th most affected country hardest hit by the climate crisis according to the Climate Risk Index. Yet the country has contributed less than half of one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

With vast agricultural lands still under water, experts say that wheat sowing has been affected in these areas. This could lead to scarcity of the country’s staple grain. They say that floods in Pakistan came after a severe heatwave and drought with temperatures consistently above 45° C. This triggered the unusually heavy melting of the country’s glaciers, followed by the heaviest monsoon that caused devastating floods.

The question here is whether an increase in population in countries like Pakistan is contributing to the climate crisis? Some scientists say this is not a fair argument. According to World Bank, “the average Canadian, Saudi and Australian put out more than ten times the carbon dioxide into the air through their daily living than the average Pakistani, where a third of the nation was flooded in a climate change worsened event.” In Qatar, the per capita emissions are 20 times Pakistan’s.

Scientist Bill Hare of Climate Analytics says, “The question is not about population but rather about consumption patterns. So it’s best to look at the major northern emitters to begin with.” He says that there is more than a tinge of racism in the idea that overpopulation is the major issue behind climate change.

The world is getting hotter and more crowded and the two issues are connected. The Earth has warmed almost 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since it hit the 4 billion mark in 1974. At the same time, more people are consuming energy, mostly from burning fossil fuels that is warming the planet.

In the case of Pakistan, when it comes to the question of resources versus managing the population affected by the climate crisis, the country appears to be in a difficult situation. The basic indicators of human management are already alarming. Pakistan holds the 138th position in terms of literacy rate out of 167 countries the 2021 report of Human Development says that only 59 percent of Pakistan’s population is designated as literate.

The 2021 Global Health Index shows that Pakistan is ranked 130 out of 195 countries, with 0.09 points decrease from the year 2019. Out of every 1,000 babies born, 67 die before they get to see their 5th birthday. Around 24.3 percent population is below the poverty line, according to a report by the Asian Development Bank. The trend is increasing. According to the World Food Programme, the floods more than doubled the number of people needing emergency food assistance, taking it to a staggering 14.6 million.

With these statistics, providing basic facilities and rights to the 225.2 million population is a huge challenge. As the UNFPA statement says, it is time for Pakistan to take stock and drive action. It says that focusing on numbers alone may not present the full picture. It is time to look beyond the numbers and to keep counting for evidence-based decisions. The solution is not more or fewer people but more and equal access to opportunities for the people. “The power of choice can move demographic and development indicators naturally in the right direction,” said Dr Luay Shabaneh, the UNFPA representative (designate) in Pakistan.

Pakistan is among the few countries with detailed population policy and programme roadmaps at the federal and provincial levels. It is time to translate these plans into actions. This will have an impact on managing the impact of the climate crisis that we are destined to face.

The writer is a reporter for The News International

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