EDITORIAL: The ongoing rain spell has wreaked havoc in terms of fatalities as well as damage to public-owned infrastructure and privately-owned houses. As per Germanwatch, an NGO, Pakistan is responsible for less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions but ranks eighth on an index of nations most exposed to extreme weather conditions.
The usual mantra that there was lack of preparedness by the national and provincial Disaster Management Authorities reflective of the lack of priority by the political leadership at the Centre and the provinces remains valid; however, the negative fallout of climate change worldwide, with its associated loss of life and destruction of public and private assets in developed countries this year, has focused global attention on the emergent need to adopt mitigating measures on an urgent basis.
In Pakistan, measures to combat the effects of climate change during the Khan administration included the four-year (2019-23) ‘10 billion tree tsunami’, at a cost of 125 billion rupees, designed to revive and expand forest cover as well as provide jobs, and ban the use of plastic ‘shoppers’ for bagging purchases which unfortunately remained limited to Islamabad and was visibly abandoned by end 2019.
Today with the pervasive political uncertainty coupled with the economic impasse that Pakistan is facing the possibility of injecting the required investment to implement mitigating measures is a challenge.
Nonetheless, the three-and-a-half-month-old government did appoint a Minister of Climate Change, Sherry Rehman, who recently stated that climate change is a matter of national security and acts as a threat multiplier potentially amplifying risks of extreme vulnerability and generates intense competition over depleting resources.
On 6 July, Sherry Rehman during a press conference stated that from 14 June this year the number of fatalities rose to 77 with 39 reported from Balochistan alone — a figure that has risen to 304 by end last week with 61 fatalities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 60 in eastern Punjab. Flooding due to melting glaciers as well as the rains remains a present danger. In an interview to a foreign media outlet, Rehman stated on 20 July that climate change is “apocalyptic and when you have an apocalypse in front of you, you have to face it head-on.”
Be that as it may, the focus at present in Pakistan has not begun on rehabilitation and reconstruction as the rains have not abated but on protection and providing assistance as required. The Sindh government announced a holiday on Monday past in Karachi and Hyderabad as it was considered unsafe with water entering houses/schools/offices in several localities severely compromising the transport sector. This is over and above the significant disruption in the supply of key utilities particularly electricity.
In Balochistan, four were killed during the recent rain spell. Rains washed away two bridges; and a 4-kilometre portion of the highway linking Quetta to Karachi is under water. Parts of Rawalpindi are submerged and Leh Nullah has risen to 15 feet at Gowalmandi and Kattarian bridges. The army and civilian authorities have been engaged in rescue efforts in all provinces, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
It is important to note that the budget for the current fiscal year has allocated 9.6 billion rupees to the climate change division as compared to last year’s 9.579 billion rupees allocation. However, it is quite likely that inflation would more than eat up the rise.
Environment research and development (under current expenditure) has been allocated 187 million rupees against no allocation last fiscal year. It is unclear what this amount would be spent on and one would hope that in the face of no visible strategy with respect to climate change policies, and no fiscal space, the government continues with the ‘10 billion trees tsunami’ and bans the use of plastic shoppers throughout the country.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022