The government of Pakistan’s narrative is to seek money, reparations, aid and deferments of loans for climate change induced vulnerabilities and effects on the country at the COP27 Climate Change conference in Egypt. It holds that the first world and industrialized economies (China and India) are disproportionately responsible for altering climate in dangerous and erratic manner.
But, who are the most vulnerable to climate change? What causes these vulnerabilities? What is climate change justice? What is Pakistan doing to be more resilient against the climate related global vulnerabilities? What is Pakistan’s policy on climate change adaptation for 220 million people?
The ‘adaptation’ discussion requires a lot more introspection for Pakistani state managers. The vulnerabilities of citizens have multiplied since 1947. Only a tiny segment of the population has become resilient to climate change. The largest humanitarian crisis is lack of investment in social and physical infrastructure in Pakistan.
Pakistan is geographically located in a vulnerable area. It is high risk for earthquakes, with active tectonic plate movements, it has glaciers melting, it has rivers overflowing and some drying out in parts of the Indus plains, and large parts under droughts especially in Balochistan. Massive deforesting in Gilgit Baltistan and upper Khybar Pakhtunkhwa is weakening the natural resilience mechanisms in the country. The population growth further increases peoples’ risks to climate crisis.
Ironically, the state of Pakistan is directly responsible for the outcomes and consequences of climate crisis. Today, in light of the 2022 floods and rain induced damages and losses to human security in Pakistan, there is some conversation on global warming and its consequences. But what is at the heart of the matter: quality of life or protecting land and infrastructure? Social security should be the number one consideration at the national level. What else is climate justice?
Recently, at the Jinnah Institute, experts spoke on many aspects of climate change: First, they said, the domestic agenda for climate change adaptation must reflect our own development priorities when we speak at the international level to seek assistance. When Pakistan demands funds as a victim of climate change from climate financing arrangements it must show it has invested in adaptation as well. What are international reparations going to go towards if we have not prioritized in those areas? The proof is in the making of the pudding.
Climate changes did not cause vulnerabilities but compounded the pre-existing ones. Some 33 million citizens were made shelter-less not because of 56 days of rain but because their homes could not withstand rain. Further, 33 million Pakistanis went without food or healthcare because there was no social infrastructure nearby and they had no capacity or ability to purchase the basics.
Experts asked: how many of them have money to purchase food or go to a hospital? Why can’t they rent a room in a city in Pakistan while they rebuild their homes? Why is there no building insurance? Do they even own a home? Are these 33 million educated enough or with transferable skills to enable them to relocate somewhere in Pakistan? What jobs did they have to begin with? Are uneducated tenants, living hand to mouth and debt ridden, with eight mouths to feed on average a recipe for resilience? Is this really a climate change issue?
Pakistan’s Climate Change Minister, Sherry Rehman, said, “Let’s be realistic, to expect the rural poor to move to safer ground is unrealistic. To expect them to adapt to safer practices to build resilience is untenable and unrealistic”.
But, considering the current crisis, can we expect the government to make such policy shifts? Who obstructs the welfare of the rural poor? Give the rural poor opportunities, funds, skills, trainings, options and above all, social mobilisation, and a majority of them will choose adaptation for improved resilience against multiple vulnerabilities.
Kashmala Kakakhel said that for every dollar we spend on early warning systems, we save nine dollars in potential losses and damages – “Investment in our eco systems and restoring aquifers and green climate adaptive infrastructure saves us from future damages and loss.”
Ayesha Khan at the Jinnah Institute raised important points. She questioned what makes us vulnerable, and identified food, water and energy as the three main threats to human security — “Pakistan has mismanaged its water resources. In agriculture, for example, four crops use 80 percent of the arable land and water supply. Such land usage practices has made Pakistan food insecure as well. Pakistan’s arable land has been converted into real estate, thus worsening the food and agricultural insecurity. Food security does not mean that Pakistan needs to produce all its required food but should have the means and capacity to purchase cheaper food.”
She stated that the underlying, compounding factor is Pakistan’s growing population – “This is an enormous burden and contributes towards vulnerabilities”.
The government must adopt greener solutions or alternative energy initiatives. Instead of taxing and disincentivising such resilience measures they need to incentivise at the household levels. The risk reduction by availability of energy at the household level is massive. Pakistan must switch to from using fosil fuels to renewables.
The Sarhad Rural Support Programme’s (SRSP) model introduced resilience in multiple areas of their socially mobilised communities in KP. They adapted by developing a self-sustainable energy generation model through hydel project. They have trained and facilitated communities in Swat and Ayun Valley, to generate hydel power for household use. Locals manage the entire spectrum from generation, distribution, maintenance, and collection.
The socially mobilized communities were trained by SRSP to function in the absence of local governments. Why can’t this model be scaled up across Pakistan?
The Gilgit Baltistan’s disaster response mechanism and early warning systems that engage communities is a success story. It is a result of Aga Khan Rural Support Programme and its 40 years of social mobilization of self-help systems. The government of Pakistan contributed nothing towards building resilience in GB.
The minister understood this as a real solution. She said, “This can never happen because the multiple ministries at the federal and provincial levels would not cooperate.”
Pakistan’s governance structure is the main problem. The population would be ready for solutions and self-help if there were investments at this level.
The government of Pakistan claims that Pakistan is poor with no money, so how can it build resilience and rehabilitate. But is this going to ever change? Have we seen any reduction in the Pakistani budget lines that subsidize wealthy and powerful? Will there be a reorientation on what is Pakistan’s number one national security concern? Will we invest in the welfare of the 220 million citizens?
Kashmala Kakakhel said that for every dollar we spend on early warning systems, we save nine dollars in potential losses and damages – “Investment in our eco systems and restoring aquifers and green climate adaptive infrastructure saves us from future damages and loss. The resilient plans are not projects but long term national integrated strategies. We must know the difference.”
The government of Pakistan must stop looking at the social sector and security as a collection of donor projects. Pakistan must invest in its own monies in its most precious resource — its people.
Climate adaptation is a human security issue not a first world indulgence. It is Pakistan national security concern.