‘How can you say that your region faces climate change? Is there any evidence?’ I was asked by some foreign experts in climate change. I am no scientist, neither can I provide data with facts and figures. What I have are the informal conversations with elderly people and my own observations over the last four decades.
From my childhood in the 1980s till July 2010 I never saw the Swat River rise beyond certain marks which I had in the form of rocks on the bank of the river where the pathway to my school passed. The bridge connecting my village to the town of Bahrain in Swat by the cliff has always been more than 50 feet above the riverbed. In the summer the river would rise 15 feet but never above that.
I had never witnessed continued heavy showers of rains that would have covered the entire non-monsoon region in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. In July and August, the area would get less rain than needed. In March and April, it rained for weeks. In winter slow and steady snowfall.
My father, 82, said he never saw the river wash away the bridge on the rock. I asked other elders about past floods in the area. Every one of them bewildered at what has been happening in the past 15 years.
This year in March and April we had a heatwave like that of July in this region of the Hindu Kush. It was as if summer had been overtaken by spring. But in May and June the weather was as cold as it used to be in March.
In July and August when there was rain it was limited to certain villages. If one village got a shower another village, just 3 to 4 kilometers away, had sunshine that time.
Rain never went above the alpine line, tree line, in this beautiful part of the Swat valley. When we were hiking in the highlands, we never had rain, while coming down to the side villages of the river we were told that some of them had got heavy rain.
Then came July 2010. We saw continued and heavy rainfall in the entire area for two consecutive days and the result was that devastating deluge. Same we saw in the last week of August this year when heavy showers covered all the valleys and went above the alpine line in the pastureland and glaciers. Just in a couple of days all the brooks, mountain streams and tributary riverlets flashed. These fell into the Swat River which roared and washed away roads, bridges, link roads, link bridges, agricultural lands, houses and hotels turning upper Swat Valley into rubble of boulders, rocks, mud and sand.
The irregularities in weather patterns, the heavy rainfall in a non-monsoon area, rainfall above the tree line and on glaciers, melting of glaciers and the flash flooding above forested land say it all that Pakistan is the worst victim of the impacts of climate change.
Pakistan has the largest number of glaciers outside the polar region. These glaciers are in the spectacular northern Pakistan—the region of Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himalaya ranges. The people in these areas are too vulnerable to climate change impacts. The variability in weather patterns in the last two decades is worrisome for it can affect the glaciers and glacial lakes which causes huge flooding in the southern parts of Pakistan.
No doubt the vulnerability to climate change is exacerbated by human intrusion and unplanned tourism with no concern for the degradation of the environment; and this is mostly because of bad governance and growth of population which are specific characteristics of poor countries like Pakistan.
But can Pakistan be exclusively held responsible for the damage the monster flooding did to it? Not really. The bad governance is a factor, of course, yet the damages done by the floods do not seem to be all by bad governance. The rivers changed their courses so unexpectedly that they came upon villages where nobody has ever thought of flooding.
Pakistan is the worst victim of climate change effects though it has very little input to it. It might add one percent to the factors responsible for climate change but the cost it pays is more than 20 percent in damage and loss. The question is whether the rich and most polluting countries should repair the damages and pay for the losses in Pakistan is a valid question and needs immediate answers. Blaming the victim may not serve the purpose.
Even though there are pledges and commitments internationally, yet there is not the same level of seriousness on the part of the rich industrialised countries when it comes to Pakistan, as is often seen in times of disasters natural or manmade in European countries. For example, the response to the Ukraine crisis.
The rich countries which are the greatest polluters should have the obligation to pay for the damages and losses in Pakistan and help it in preparedness and mitigation interventions for future disasters which are now likely in the shape of floods.