A wake-up call

September 4, 2022

Serious steps are needed to counter climate change that is wreaking havoc around the world

A wake-up call


he floods in Pakistan are playing havoc with the fragile infrastructure of the country, decimating mud-houses, buildings constructed in violation of plausible rules and regulations, crops, and roads and bridges. An initial estimate has puts the losses at $10 billion. More than 30 million people having been displaced.

It certainly will take years to recover from this loss. Meanwhile, impoverished areas of the country will dwell further into poverty. While Pakistan is facing an unprecedented scale of flooding, some other areas of the world are facing unusual droughts.

South China has been hit by severe droughts, forcing much of the country’s industrial production to either slow down or shut down altogether. Water in the country’s hydropower reservoirs in the region has halved. The British Isles are also facing a relentless drought, forcing water companies to impose hosepipe bans in several areas across the country. The water levels in Europe’s famous Rhine River are so low that it is impeding river transport of the raw material and hurting global supply chains. In America, floods in Kentucky, caused by five days of continuous rain, have drowned dozens of towns. According to scientists, the rainfall broke a 1,000-year record. On the other hand, water level in Colorado River, which supplies water to more than 40 million Americans and supports food production for a large part of the country, has gone record low, cutting water supply to vast areas in seven states including Arizona, Colorado and California. In several other areas of the world, aberrant weather conditions are affecting lifestyle, ecological sustainability, food security and long-term socio-economic patterns of development.

The fact of climate change and global warming is no more disputed. It is significant to understand the trilateral dimension of the crisis hitting Pakistan. The first and foremost is an anti-nature lifestyle.

Being part of the region that witnesses huge temperature fluctuations the year round, we historically have been accustomed to living in homes built over relatively vast areas. Concrete, the construction material widely used to build homes in Pakistan, is a very inefficient insulator. Inclement weathers, both hot and cold, makes it difficult to stay in these building without a continuous supply of energy. Two consequences emerge. One, we need more energy to keep concrete homes and buildings cool or hot. Two, we need an outer space to breathe if we don’t have such uninterrupted supply of energy. The first consequence requires a huge energy input, the second consumes more space. We also tend to have bigger families. Secondly, we are increasingly consuming agricultural and productive lands to build homes. In recent decades, we have cleared a good part of agricultural or forest lands in the Punjab and elsewhere to develop housing societies. Since these societies are being built without centralised planning, and since we have not established new cities during the last half century, our cities have burgeoned into ungovernable urban areas.

South China has been hit by severe droughts, forcing much of the country’s industrial production to either slow down or shut down altogether and water in the country’s hydropower reservoirs in the region has halved. The British Isles are also facing a relentless drought, forcing water companies to impose hosepipe bans in several areas in the country.

The second dimension of the problem is our population growth rate. Pakistan will have a population of more than 240 million people by 2030. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the use of contraceptives was reported to have decreased by 8.3 percent. According to Annual Contraceptive Performance Report 2019-2020, Pakistan’s population has grown by 57 percent since 1998 due, primarily, to religious taboos, political timidity and public ignorance, especially in rural areas.

Since poverty has a direct correlation with low literacy, high fertility, and high childhood and maternal mortality, any natural calamity eliminates any gains in terms of of poverty alleviation, resulting in pushing more people into a destitute downward spiral of producing more children, infant mortality, early marriages, early deaths, and an overall poor quality of life. Pakistan currently has a 2.4 percent population growth rate, much higher compared to India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Successive governments have failed to adopt appropriate policies to decelerate population growth in the country. Meanwhile, a net addition of about 90 million people in the country since 1998 and another 8 million people in next eight years means hundreds of new schools, hospitals, extensive infrastructural development and housing, employment and recreational spaces are needed. These issues complicate due to ecological limitations, economic inequalities and political instability. The high population growth rate is worsening the food security, pushing the country to deforest historical habitats and utilise them to produce crops, thinning our ability to resist impacts of climate change, most prominently the floods and droughts. Underground water reservoirs in cities as well as suburban areas are fast depleting. In some areas of southern Punjab, villages within less than 10 miles of rivers have experienced a fall of water table from 30 feet to more than 200 feet in less than 30 years.

These problems are compounded by the third and, perhaps, most important dimension of the issue: our failure to provide and appreciate leadership in our fight against climate change. Pakistan, unfortunately, has been unable to raise an environment-friendly awareness among its populace. Our political and economic elites have cherished material dimension of development, ignoring the ecological consequences.

The cities lack water recycling facilities; most of them pour wastewater into rivers and canals, contaminating the fields producing grains and vegetables. Our industries pollute the environment, turning some cities uninhabitable in the winter season. Farmers burn the crops, polluting the environment further. As a society, we have failed to appreciate the valuable contributions trees, forests, parks and rivers make. Pakistan underinvests in ecological stability policies, programmes and projects. Our policy makers and bureaucrats lack a vision and will to aggressively devise and implement pro-nature policies and practices. An anti-nature social approach cherished by the leadership is killing our young and the future generations. Pakistan is fast reaching an inexorable stage of ecological crisis when there would be no water to drink, no food to eat and no tree to breathe healthy. This flood must be a wake-up call for everyone in the country.

The writer is a lecturer at Texas A&M University, USA. He can be approached at slashari@tamu.edu

A wake-up call