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The end of sustainability

After depleting all our natural resources, it seems all we have left is the global embarrassment we face because of the loss of habitats .

“Like elsewhere, the life of people in Pakistan is closely linked to its surroundings. From micro-organisms to macro flora and fauna, and their variability in forms, structures and functions and the variability of habitats and ecosystems all over the country work and function together to make possible life on earth, with more advantages and facilities for human beings.”

This was part of a speech made by Ashiq Ahmad Khan, a senior conservationist with over four decades of experience, who was recently awarded the World Commission on Protected Areas’ Kenton Miller Award, while highlighting the environmental issues that Pakistan faces at large.

According to Khan, “Pakistan is confronting the biggest evil and tragedy of the human society in the form of uncontrolled and rapid increase in population that has already become more than the bearing capacities of natural resources, the land and waters. Over and above this, there are certain accelerating factors, both global and local, that are adding to the worsening of the situation”.

Khan further said, “There should be a complete ban on unsustainable practices, replication of good land use practices and the use of indigenous knowledge and scientific research that could focus upon the testing of alternate seeds and crop varieties under the changed and changing scenario. This all has to boost further through a comprehensive awareness campaign.” 

Pressure on natural resources

The Karez system in Balochistan has been meeting the demand for water both for human consumption and irrigation for centuries but the unsustainable exploitation of water through tube wells along the Karez has resulted in drying up the Karez in some parts and reducing the quantity of water in other parts. Since the life and health of Karez is dependent on the health of its catchment that in turn demand a healthy vegetation cover but in many cases, the vegetation cover has been removed totally or partially, thus reducing chances for recharging Karez’s aquifer.

Till now, Pakistan was paying the price of the unsustainable development carried out by the West, but once the coal-fired power plants are operational, the environmental impacts that Pakistan will face will be irreversible, and we will realise that we cannot eat money.

The Uchali wetland complex situated in District Khushab, Uchali, used to support over 100,000 migratory birds, including a globally endangered species, in the early 1980s. The micro-climate around the lake also helped farmers to grow early season vegetables. In early 1990s, increasing agriculture led to over 1,000 wells around the lake that extracted and used most of its water, which resulted in less water every year. In 1990s, the wetland was reduced by about 30 per cent, many parts of the lake, along with the many economic benefits it offered have now disappeared. All that is left is the global embarrassment we face because of the loss of habitat for migratory birds, which the Government of Pakistan had committed to protect under the BONN convention. 

Climate Change Vulnerability Index 2017

Until recently, Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk consulting firm has released its annual Climate Change Vulnerability Index 2017, listing191 countries vulnerable to climate change. According to the index, the five worst performing countries that are highly vulnerable to climate change are Central African Republic, DR Congo, Haiti, Liberia and South Sudan. Whereas the five best performing countries, those that are least vulnerable to climate change in order, are Denmark, UK, Uruguay, Iceland and Ireland. Coming to Asia, Philippines is ranked 32 and categorised as Extreme Risk; Nepal is at 71; India at 72; Afghanistan at 53; China at; and Pakistan is at 62.

According to Jason McGeown, the head of communications, Verisk Maplecroft, “As in many developing countries, water security is a key challenge for Pakistan. The country is dependent on reliable flow along the Indus River, and this is likely to be significantly affected by climate change. Rapid glacier melt, more frequent extreme rainfall events and prolonged droughts are expected under climate change and will pose challenges to water resource management in the Indus River Basin. For example, hydropower facilities along the river generate about a third of the country’s electricity and production is expected to be impacted as a greater variability of monsoons in the future is likely to lead to more frequent and intense droughts.”

McGeown further termed societal and economic reliance on agriculture in Pakistan the key drivers of climate change vulnerability, as a quarter of the country’s GDP is derived from agriculture and more than 40 per cent of the workforce is employed in the sector. According to him, “The Indus River provides water for the majority of the country’s crops and with more variable flow under climate change, crop productivity and livelihoods are expected to be negatively impacted. A heavy reliance on the agricultural sector leaves the country highly sensitive to climate shocks, both in terms of climate variability in the short term and also to long term climate change.”

Syed Abu Ahmed Akif, the secretary of ministry of climate change, adds that “The consistent placement of Pakistan amongst the top most countries to be affected by climate change is a matter of concern not just of the government or the scientific community but for every thinking and knowing Pakistani. As has already been written recently the biggest threat facing the country is not terrorism or financial and social meltdown but climate change. Extreme weather events are estimated to have cost nearly 20 billion dollars. While the actual figure can never be known a figure of USD1 billion is the estimate of losses by way of climate related events.”

“We really do not need this or any other index to tell us that Pakistan is vulnerable to climate change. We are seeing the impacts already exacerbating the miseries of our everyday lives —- in the floods in Gilgit, in the heatwave in Karachi, in the drought in Thar, partly even in the fog and smog in Lahore. If all of these real challenges are not alerting people to the seriousness of environmental degradation and global climate change, then no fancy index will either,” says Dr Adil Najam, the dean of Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University.

Pakistan’s most vulnerable areas are characterised by high rates of poverty and poor access to public services, which can be testified from a recent World Bank report which suggests that six percent of the population lives on less than USD1.90 per day. The lack of access to basic services continue to leave the population further vulnerable to climate change. The situation is exacerbated due to uncontrolled population, and as the population rises over the next two to three decades further strain will be placed on existing infrastructure and services, making the adaptation to shifts in climate more challenging.

Environmentalists regard Pakistan’s venturing into coal energy as the last nail in the coffin. Till now, Pakistan was paying the price of the unsustainable development carried out by the West, but once the coal-fired power plants are operational, the environmental impacts that Pakistan will face will be irreversible, and we will realise that we cannot eat money.

Abubakar, Muhammad. The end of sustainability. The News on Sunday, March 5, 2017.

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