Losing what you can’t replace

Climate change impacts every aspect of our individual and collective lives

Losing what you can’t replace


he havoc that climate change is capable of has been known for a while now. Globally, each of the last three decades has been successively warmer than the preceding one, since 1850. For the last few years, we have been setting the wrong kind of records.

Climate change and its consequences in South Asia, specifically in Pakistan, were considered to be an imported subject for a very long time. The reality should be proof enough for naysayers that it should be on the top of our priority list.

Climate change impacts every aspect of one’s life, at an individual and at a macro level. It affects the determinants of the food cycle, health and the social fabric of society.

According to reports, one in eight individuals around the world is suffering on account of a drastic heatwave that has started ahead of its expected time this year.

Despite not being a major contributor to the problem, South Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions. For example, Pakistan’s CO2 emissions are less than 1 percent of the global emissions and yet, the country is one of the 10 most impacted by climate change.

Home to around 1.9 billion people, countries in the region are witnessing extreme heat, breaking 100-year records. As per scientists, the temperatures are only going to rise in the coming days.

The official number of climate-related deaths reported in Pakistan so far is 65; in India it is 25. Experts believe that the actual casualties may be much higher. On social media, people have reported seeing birds falling out of the sky with dehydration.

Food production is on the frontline in this war of impacts, as many countries in the region, including ours, are agro-based economies. The backbone of Pakistan’s economy is agriculture. It contributes 21 percent to the GDP. At a global level, wheat production is threatened. Lower yields and change in crop patterns are already contributing and will continue to contribute to rising food prices globally. According to the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), an estimated 10 to 50 percent crop production of the region can be lost by the end of the century. The recent patterns of rainfall should be enough for people to start taking environmental change and its impact on our lives seriously.

Our problems don’t end or even pause here. As a species, we are still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic. Scientists have warned that this won’t be the last pandemic in our lifetimes given how human activity has abused the natural environment.

The World Health Organisation has reported that climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress between 2030 and 2050.

The rising heat also contributes to increased dust and ozone levels, making air pollution a crisis during the winter season in the shape of smog. Many people have complained of increased ENT infections and allergies in major cities across the region.

While in the southern parts of Pakistan, there is a crisis due to lack of water, the northern parts are experiencing flash floods due to melting glaciers.

The monsoon floods of 2014, 2015 and 2016 are etched in our memories. In March 2017, the then minister for law, justice and climate change stated in a Senate session that these floods had affected a total of 4.5 million people.

The footage of the collapse of the Hassanabad Bridge on the Karakoram Highway due to the melting of Shishper glacier has already made rounds on social media. Glaciers in the Himalaya, Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain ranges have been melting rapidly due to rising temperatures. As a result, they have created thousands of glacial lakes in northern Pakistan. According to the Ministry of Climate Change, around 30 of these lakes are at risk of sudden hazardous flooding, putting the lives of around 7 million people at risk.

Climate change is already rendering parts of the planet unlivable. In South Asia, for instance, air conditioning, while still a luxury for many, is becoming a need for surviving the heat. This rise in demand is dependent on electricity, a major chunk of which is sourced from fossil fuels further adding to the problem and creating a vicious cycle.

This vicious cycle in turn triggers migration, both local and global. Locally, after natural calamities, given the fractured rehabilitation system, people move towards urban centres, stretching the resources of these cities to the brink. So those who are able to look towards international borders, do that. According to a forecast by the International Organisation for Migration, some 25 million to a billion people will be forced to migrate due to environmental changes globally by 2050, many of them from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

Most conversations around climate change don’t emphasise enough the fact that it feeds the poverty cycle. A major chunk of any household’s income goes into covering basic needs. Food and health care are the priority and get the biggest cut. Both these aspects have a direct correlation with climate change. Families with limited resources aren’t left with enough to invest in their children’s education, consequently paving way for a cycle of vicious repetition with every generation.

The only hope is a serious policy change and scalable practical solutions. Inaction at this point will be collective suicide.

The writer is a digital communications and marketing professional. She tweets at @FatimaArif

Losing what you can’t replace