Pakistan: Climate change and environmental problems stymie government | Asia | An in-depth look at current events from across the continent | DW
Torrential rains in Pakistan killed more than 100 people last week, while causing extensive damage to property and infrastructure.
The southern port city of Karachi has been plunged into chaos. Residential and commercial areas were inundated and power outages disrupted life for days.
Climate scientists say Pakistan is particularly vulnerable to inclement weather and other effects of climate change, including marine intrusion, unusual rain patterns, melting glaciers, rising temperatures and drought.
The Islamabad government says it plans to take action, but Pakistan’s climate change challenge is daunting.
Arid Pakistan has faced stronger monsoons than has been seen in the past.
“In 2018, the total rainfall recorded in Sindh Province during the monsoon was only 1 millimeter (0.039 inch). But in 2019 it was 323 millimeters (12.7 inch), and so far this year we have seen rainfall totaling 450-500 millimeters, ”climate expert Jawad Memon told DW.
The Arabian Sea has also warmed, with the average surface temperature dropping from 29 degrees Celsius (84.2 degrees Fahrenheit) to 31 degrees in just two years, according to Memon.
This has fueled the formation of sea-pushing storms in coastal communities. “The Indus River Delta has been severely affected by the marine intrusion which is affecting people’s livelihoods,” he said.
Mohammad Ali, environmental activist and president of the Pakistan Fishermen’s Forum
Shah told DW that the problem in the Indus Delta is being exacerbated by the construction of dams.
“Dam construction had already reduced water flow in the Indus Delta, and climate change accelerated the destruction process with marine intrusion claiming four million acres of farmland over the years,” forcing 1.2 million people to migrate, ”he said.
One estimate shows that one hundred acres of arable land is destroyed every day due to the intrusion of the sea, according to Shah. Mangrove forests are also disappearing.
Read more: Water wars: Are India and Pakistan heading for climate change-induced conflict?
Trees, smog and electric mobility
Khial Zaman Orakzai, member of the Pakistani parliamentary committee on climate change, told DW that the Pakistani government is tackling climate change with projects such as tree planting, electric mobility and campaigns to reduce emissions .
A project in the remote northwestern border province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), aims to plant 1 billion trees.
“We have planted over a billion trees. In 2014, the total forest area of the province was only 20%, it is now 26%, ”district forestry officer Shakeel Ahmed told DW. “We will get more plants from the federal government’s $ 10 billion tree project which will further increase forest cover and help improve the ecology of the province.”
Smog is another big problem in Pakistan’s industrial province of Punjab, where winters in the provincial capital, Lahore, are suffocated by smoke. Thousands of brick kilns are contributing to the problem, and authorities say they are tackling the problem.
Muhammad Ali Ijaz, a senior official with the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency, told DW that “zigzag” production methods were introduced to reduce smoke levels.
“There are 359 industrial units contributing to pollution in Lahore which are currently monitored. Zigzag technology was introduced for brick kilns a few years ago and 33% of brick kilns have already been converted to the technology, ”Ijaz said.
The government has also made efforts to promote electric power and mobility to reduce overall emissions and improve air quality. “We have developed an electric vehicle policy, aiming to have 150 buses powered by electric batteries,” Orakzai said. A station has already been installed in the national capital, Islamabad.
Read more: Why religious narratives are key to tackling climate change
The government has also abandoned two coal-fired power projects and is trying to generate 30% of total electricity from renewable sources in the coming years. “If we add hydroelectric projects, the total renewable electricity production would be around 60%,” according to Orakzai.
Torrential rains in Pakistan killed more than 100 and caused extensive damage to infrastructure last week
Experts blame environmental models induced by climate change and human activities like dam construction of alarming water scarcity in Pakistan
Government initiatives are not enough
Environmentalist Memon said government initiatives have missed the environmental issues that really matter.
“There is no point in simultaneously launching tree planting campaigns and promoting charcoal. We have to switch completely to wind and solar,” he said.
Lahore-based analyst Ahsan Raza added that there had been problems with the implementation of the initiatives.
“Imported plants are being planted which could harm the environment. No environmental impact assessment of these plants is carried out. The government is planning urban river and seaside developments, which portend more environmental disasters,” Raza said. .
However, Amir Hussain, an Islamabad-based development expert and environmental activist, told DW that change will take time.
“In Punjab, they are restoring the biodiversity of the Ravi river basin and proposing an anti-smog policy in the province and promoting the vertical development of cities, leaving more space for parks and plantations. Similar policies are also being implemented at KP, ”he said.
“These policies will take some time to show their impact, but there is no doubt that the government appears sincere in tackling the problem of environmental pollution.”
Additional reporting by Shah Fahad from Karachi.