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World Water Day 2018:Nature Based Solutions

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Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 11.15.47 pm.pngOn World Water Day 2018, think water, think women, and think Nature Based Solutions, or NBS as they are called. Why women? Because there is a clear water and women nexus in most communities that places the responsibility of fetching water, and its judicious use, on women.

Why Nature? Because as has been explained in the theme:

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This makes perfect sense where there is a paucity of resources to meet the dire needs of water access for communities.

It also makes sense because grey structures interfere with Nature. Their negative impacts in the surrounding, and downstream areas have been widely documented.

Nature based solutions allow benefit from Nature’s bounty while allowing it to also replenish and sustain itself, and life, human, animal, insect and plant, life around it.

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I have been fortunate to have witnessed one such solution implemented through the Indus Earth Trust Water for Women project being implemented in Kohistan union council of Thatta District with the assistance of Coca-Cola Foundation.

An arid area totally dependent on the water collecting in natural depression from hill torrents racing down twice a year from the adjoining Kirthar Hills, this hot and windy areas sees it disappe

ar all too soon, especially in the summer when rapid evapouration takes place.

The area gets rain for a few days twice a year and that is is only source of water.

Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 11.21.17 pm.png Women, who bear the physical and social burden of fetching water have to go further and further in search of the watering holes to fetch water for household use as well as take livestock there to fulfil their needs.

The heavy containers of water on their heads take a toll on their physical health, and the distance consumes the better part of their day as sometimes they have to make the trek thrice to meet their needs.

There is no getting away from this arduous, tortuous task no matter which state of sickness or health they are in. Girls as young as eight years carry a container their physical capacity would allow them, and trudge along with their mothers in search of water.

Bringing water is such a gender specific task that all waking hours of the females revolve around it. This not just compromises their physical well being but also deprives them of a chance to acquire education.

The simple nature based solution that Indus Earth Trust settled on was to ensure the presence of water around the year closer to the scattered villages, by excavating those natural depressions so they could become a large reservoir that could store a lot more water than was otherwise possible.


By adhering to the principle of minimal interference with nature, the reservoirs filled as a result of rain water harvesting, have been left unlined, to facilitate the replenishment of the aquifer through ground-water recharge, that meets with Coca-Cola’s objectives.

Through a specialized method of quantifying the amount of replenishment, in the past 1 year since the project began, LimnoTech’s quantification shows 150.4 Million Litre replenished through these 24 reservoirs.

This is just an indicator of the benefits of looking for low tech, simple Nature Based Solutions to solving problems related to Water.

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also read:

Another intervention in Kohistan:


Written by afiasalam

March 22, 2018 at 8:41 pm

Six years after the Attabad disaster, adaptation is still name of the game!

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Some of the most stunning mountains of the Karakoram range circle the Attabad lake in Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan

The mountains of Gilgit Baltistan are like a petulant teenager still trying to find a place. They are still experiencing growing pains and rock and rattle all those around them like the teenager slamming doors. Just like that teenager, they need to be watchful of, because of the potential to do harm.


Hunza river snaking though the valley

On this day in 2010, the young Karakorams stretched themselves to release some of their tension, but that one stretch had nightmarish results. The villagers of Gojal valley in Gilgit-Baltistan, heard a rumble, that quickly turned into a roar, the earth trembled, and billows of dust triggered by a huge landslide raced down a disintegrating mountainside, and slammed into the path of the Hunza river down below.

This disaster,  resulted in the loss of 19 precious lives, displacement of thousands of villagers from  Attabad, Shishkat and Gulmit, and complete destruction of many miles of the Karakoram Highway that linked Pakistan to China, and the bridges linking the villages in the valley.

It was not unexpected. This is a seismically active zone. Human activity, especially infrastructure construction disturbs the fragile environment. Humanitarian groups like Focus along with the environmentalist working in that area had been warning the people of the valley below of the widening crevices. Warmer temperatures due to Climate Change have also impacted the integrity of the glaciers in the northern mountains.

The people were warned of the dangers, and  advised to relocate. Many heeded the warning, but not all could. They had no idea where to move. They also had no other alternatives. The political leadership was also reactive and there was no disaster preparedness.


Tree tops indicating the presence of the submerged village


Tree tops protruding out of the water are an eerie reminder of a thriving village having become a watery grave

The mountain-side that had fallen into the river had dammed it completely, and soon the accumulated river started forming a lake that encroached on the homes and hearths, and business of the villages, completely submerging the village of Ayeenabad, and parts of Sishkat and adjoining villages.


Only a row of tree tops serves as a haunting reminder of the live that flourished along the banks of the Hunza river. Where people must have tended to their livestock, and reaped the fruits of their harvest. Now, there is an eerie silence of the watery grave of a thriving village.

Today, 6 years later, all the information that one needs of how the disaster was handled, of the evacuations, the airdrops of food and relief supplies, the construction of the spillway to release the rising water threatening to engulf more land is easily searchable.


Temporary shelters given for a period of 6 months are still there abode 6 years after displacement

This is about the people. The people who have been protesting each year on the frozen Attabad lake that was formed in the wake of the disaster. Protesting because promises were not kept. Because relief and rehabilitation did not come in the manner promised. And because 6 years after this disaster, there are still people living in the Altit village in temporary shelters.


These shelter were put up in is 2016, and the ‘Mutasareen’ or the affectees are still living in them

People with means moved elsewhere. The paltry sum of 600,000 was given out at one time. Chinese provided them dry rations for a year. Many moved to other villages, started their life anew, set up businesses. But the people who were given temporary shelters in Altit and Karimabad village, some in Gilgit, for six months are still living there after 6 years.

There is a great sense of community in these areas. People help out. The displaced persons in Altit were given these shelters on the land of the small farmers. However, this ‘temporary settlement’ of almost 60 shelters in this small town brings a double jeopardy.


IDPs cultivating potatoes , something the owners of this land used to do

The farmers are without their land; cultivable land which was used for growing potatoes which serve not just as a food but a major cash crop. They were expecting the use of these shelters once the IDPs left, but now they do not even get to benefit from their own land, which they had given temporarily

Most of the people of this area either are farmers, or in the Army. The people displaced from the disaster now do odd jobs to sustain their families, with only the well to do among them having established businesses like shops or transportation services.

They yearn to be in a place of their own. They feel that because they are so few in numbers, they do not even matter to the politicians when they go out seeking votes. The only hope they have is from their National Council of the Ismaili community in Pakistan.

One father spoke of the psycho-sociological effects of this temporary living. Children of the village, brutally honest and blunt as they are, call his children and those of his displaced neighbours as ‘mutasareen’ or disaster affected. He said his child was born in this village, but wants to know the meaning of this label of mutasareen. He can understand it is not being said in a nice way so does not go to school willingly.

Many adapted to the life after disaster. The infrastructure rehabilitation was going to take a long time but there was a daily trek of villagers from Gulmit and upper villages to cross over to Gilgit. This spawned a thriving road and river transportation network that had been unseen and unheard of in those areas.


Boats served as a only means of transportation for villages cut off due to damage to the roads and bridges

The awe inspiring pictures of cars and even trucks travelling astride two boats going at synchronized speeds fired the imagination of the adventurous, setting in motion a mini tourist boom. Interestingly though, when asked, this turned out to be a classic case of adaptation.

None of these people had owned boats or ran such a business there before. The locals eased into this earning opportunity as owners of boats, and tourist guides. They know the area so are comfortable in that role. However, water transportation in the upper reaches of the rivers is rare, so this was something they had to learn. Many preferred to outsource it to people who were more adept at this skill.


People with distinctly different features from the locals are boatmen from the neighbouring KP province

This is why while they became business owners and operators, the boatmen employed by them were mostly from the nearby Hazara division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. No wonder they had features so different from the locals! These became the migrant workers who found livelihood opportunity in a new land.

It is another story now that with the inauguration of the tunnels built through the surrounding mountains by the Chinese, the road link with Karakoram Highway has now been established.


Trucks like these, bearing testimony of the pervasive presence of China in the area, will no longer have to straddle two boats to get to the other side

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 12.12.55 pmThis no doubt meets a great need. But this also means that once again the people have to adapt to another kind of a life when these boats would be used only if tourism is sustained and people want to travel on the stunning blue waters of the lake, surrounded by some of the most captivating peaks.


Those in a hurry will now be using the road going through the Pak-China Friendship Tunnels.

Those wanting a comfortable ride will also be using it. But how many will be able to keep themselves from climbing onto the boats to experience the wonderous surroundings which only a boat ride will offer. Not everyone will be able to afford letting go of the boats to buy means of road transportation.

For this to happen, and tourism to thrive, rudimentary facilities around the lake will be needed so it progresses from ‘adventure’ tourism to include the less adventurous, especially as now ease of access is not a problem.


Majesty and grandeur of nature in its full glory


Pakistan’s flag flutters atop a boat, with the view of the drowned village, a makeshift one, and stunning locale behind. A mixed message of hope.

The vistas of breathtaking beauty must be made more accessible. Unless this is done, within a short span of 6 years after the Attabad disaster, the lives of its displaced persons  will be  topsy turvy once again, and they will remain in this cycle of adaptation.

Do they have to protest on the frozen lake every year on the anniversary of the disaster to make themselves heard?

*All pictures except those already with due credits have been taken by the author


Written by afiasalam

January 4, 2016 at 3:54 pm

Climate Cop-Out?

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Climate Cop-Out?

000_Del6375094One of the most important international conferences on climate change – Conference of the Parties (COP21) to be held in Paris – on December 7-8 is less than a couple of months away and shockingly, Pakistan does not have a minister for climate change. And this, despite the fact that Pakistan has been assessed as one of the top 10 countries vulnerable to climate change. It is a multi-threat country – and no, here one is not talking of India or the Punjabi Taliban!

Leading think tanks of the world have placed Pakistan fairly high on the vulnerability index. It faces disasters as varied as floods, due to unpredictable rains, as were witnessed in 2010 and 2011, and from the glacial melt, as seen in Chitral earlier this year.

At the other extreme are the onset of disasters like drought and desertification that are hitting parts of Sindh and Balochistan, and the spectre of inundation of coastal areas due to a rise in the sea level that will exacerbate the already dire situation being faced due to the intrusion of the sea in certain districts of Sindh.

Add to this mix the unpredictability of the monsoons, and the level of vulnerability of an agricultural country like Pakistan increases manifold. Then there are the ‘non-traditional’ climate change events, as listed by Dr. Pervaiz Amir, agro-economist and climate change expert, who drew the Planning Commission’s attention to them. They include heat waves, hailstorms sandstorms and duststorms; tornadoes, fog, landslides, Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF), and wildfires.

Does Pakistan have the resources to tackle all or even some of these climate change eventualities? The answer is a resounding no. Does Pakistan have the human resources or the capacity to deal with them? The answer to that is, yes… but!

It is this ‘but’ that is the reason why Pakistan finds itself lagging way behind single threat countries like the Maldives or Bangladesh (which are threatened by the rise in sea levels), in presenting its case forcefully before the world.

Qualified people need to be appointed at decision-making levels, and then they need the backing of people at the helm – the main decision makers – which unfortunately has not been the case. We have scientists, planners, environmental experts; even research bodies who have more or less mapped out the threats, as well as the measures needed to cope with them.

There is a growing realisation that despite the devolution of the environment sector to the provinces post the 18th Amendment, matters relating to environment and climate change need to be taken cognizance of and addressed at the national level. Policy and legislation must be complementary to the needs of Pakistan.

So where will COP21 figure in Pakistan’s scheme of things? COP is an annual meeting to review the response to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that was put together in Rio in 1995. Subsequent milestones include COP3, where the Kyoto Protocol was signed that put a cap on emissions. Unfortunately, the biggest polluters – China, India, USA – did not sign it.

Since then, each successive COP has seen this push and pull between what the polluters need to do to stop global warming, and what the affected need to do to deal with a problem which is not of their making. Along the way, certain concrete measures like creating a Green Climate Fund were taken.

Now, most of the nay sayers have been convinced, and those offering the stiffest resistance to reform, namely the US, China and India, are willing to take mitigating action. Also, there is money in the kitty to help the affected countries to cope.

Where does Pakistan figure in all of this?

P4170147-copyNot nearly as out there in the centre as it used to be. This is the lament of some of those who had been a part of the deliberations over the years. COP21 is about cutting emissions to keep global temperature increase below two degrees centigrade. The commitments, in the shape of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for emission cuts post-2020 that have so far been submitted to the UNFCCC secretariat, indicate that this is not going to be the case. Some countries have refused to take any new action, to mitigate the problem. For them, it will be business as usual.

Even the highest officials have expressed pessimism about achieving the desired emission cuts to contain temperatures and this conference may end up being another cop-out which dashes the hopes of environmentalists across the world and leads to a blame game and finger-pointing at those countries whose commitments fall short of what is needed.

Pakistan is aligned with the Group of 77 and China, comprising mostly developing nations. Initially China, as a nation careering towards development, was one of the leading polluters in the world. Now it is seen as a country serious in emission reductions.

In the global context, Pakistan’s emissions are a miniscule 0.8%. The breakdown, sectorwise, is as follows: transport and energy (51%), industry (5.8%), waste (1.8%), agriculture (39%) and forestry (2.9%). Since the Paris COP21 is all about commitments to cuts in emissions, Pakistan will be making its declaration of intent, and also highlighting some voluntary measures it has taken towards mitigation, adaptation, institution-building and knowledge-management. Naturally, it will be looking to get a piece of the pie from the Green Climate Fund to assist in taking adaptation measures.

Pakistan has already declared its intent to submit a proposal to obtain readiness support from the Fund by October. This will mostly be used to enhance the capacity of its Ministry of Climate Change, and kick-start many low-emission and climate-resilient initiatives, including those for renewable energy. Pakistan is also looking for funding for adaptation measures, like the one undertaken in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral to cope with GLOF. This project was credited with saving lives and minimising damage when the glacial burst occurred in Bagrot Valley in Gilgit.

While it is all very well to wave the victim card, Pakistan’s hopes from COP21 are not something to write home about. Yes, we have done some remarkable work at the policy level. There are adaptation success stories dotting the country, but the bigger picture shows many gaps. Pakistan needs continuity of policy and skill-development of the human resource that represents the country at these key negotiations. Many countries are represented by their presidents and prime ministers, with legal and diplomatic aides in tow. Not so, with Pakistan.

The musical chairs played at the bureaucratic and political level is what deprives Pakistan of the advantage which countries like Bangladesh and Maldives are able to gain. Two years ago, at COP19, Pakistan was represented by the minister of state for railways! This time, a few months short of the important conference, the Minister of Environment, Mushahidullah, was forced to resign for making a statement against a former ISI chief. As these lines go into print, the Ministry of Climate Change is without a minister.

This is yet another tragedy for this beleaguered country. As former Pakistan ambassador Shafqat Kakakhel, who has been part of the COP negotiating team in the past said:

“The forthcoming climate change conference in Paris is extremely important for every one, but more so for the poor who lack the resilience to cope with calamities of all types, including the by now well-known impacts of climate change such as floods, droughts, less food and water, and inundation of coastal areas and small island states.”

Newsline put two basic questions to four of Pakistan’s leading
experts on environment.

Q. 1:  What will Pakistan take to Paris? 

Q. 2:  What does it hope to come away with?

“Pakistan is one of the most impacted and vulnerable countries of the world in relation to climate change, though it remains one of the lowest contributors to the global problem with just 0.08% of the green house gas emissions. We can truly be termed a victim of climate injustice. Our case at COP21 is also premised on this stark reality. We must focus on our needs for adaptation and climate finance, while also elaborating on the considerable voluntary steps Pakistan has taken, such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s voluntary commitment of targeting zero carbon economic growth through clean hydro-energy as well as afforestation. Also noteworthy is the Quaid-e-Azam solar park development scheme, with 100 MW already installed and 900 MW in the pipeline.”

“Pakistan hopes to establish its extreme climate vulnerability on the global stage, while seeking new avenues for climate finance for both mitigation and adaptation. Pakistan’s financial needs to cope with the forced impacts of climate change are estimated at between US$ 6-14 billion year, while for climate mitigation it needs between US$ 9-17 billion worth of investment to shift its future growth trajectory onto a cleaner and low-carbon pathway. We do not have the luxury of time on our side, and the world needs to understand that Pakistan, like other developing countries, has to be wary of the demands for voluntary cuts and ensure that our future development does not, in any way, become a hostage to emission limitations as is premised by the founding principles of the UNFCCC – namely the ‘polluter pays’ and the ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ principles.”

— Malik Mohammad Amin Aslam, former minister of state for environment, IUCN global vice president, and author of the green growth strategy of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, which includes the ambitious billion-tree plantation programme.

“Pakistan must provide a clear statement that if no action is taken to curb CO2 emissions and restrict temperature rise, non-traditional impacts will cause colossal loss. The recent Karachi heat wave is an example.”

“Pakistan is energy-hungry, we need international help in green technologies with low carbon emissions. If not, we are poised to join the coal-fired plant club. We are the frontline state in two wars: climate change and terror. Climate change decisions cannot be deferred. Our way forward is water, renewable energy and a greener Pakistan.”

Dr Pervaiz Amir, agro-economist and former member of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Climate Change. 


“Pakistan’s policy-makers need to understand that the Paris 2015 Conference is a defining moment, with respect to medium-and long-term economic growth and social development objectives of Pakistan. Sustainable, climate-resilient and inclusive development is the only viable way forward for Pakistan and we must be well-prepared for a meaningful participation in the conference. The agenda and scope of the Paris Conference contains many elements which are of particular importance to Pakistan. In the framework of existing and evolving mechanisms of adaptation to climate change, international climate finance, technology transfer and the Warsaw mechanism of loss damage, the case of Pakistan’s exposure to climatic threats should be compellingly and convincingly presented.”

“Pakistan has enormous potential for reducing emissions in a cost-effective manner. Similarly, adapting to the harmful impacts of climate change has become a necessity for a large segment of our population. We are at the stage of forced adaptation, and we should highlight this fact before the global community. Our meaningful participation is critically important in the loss-and-damage mechanism, which within Pakistan’s perspective, is a multi-dimensional issue.”

— Bilal Anwar, a climate policy expert, who has worked at the UNFCCC Secretariat.

“Unfortunately, Pakistan is no longer a consequential player in international climate change negotiations. We dropped the ball. Pakistan put climate change on the back-burner and now climate change negotiations have put Pakistan on the back-burner. This is unfortunate because in 1992, and for many years after that, we were a consequential player. It is also unfortunate because we still have many talented professionals who could make Pakistan a consequential player.”

“Pakistan will not take much to the table at Paris. We are likely to bring back even less. This is a great loss to Pakistan’s own very pressing climate change challenges. But it is also a loss to Pakistan’s foreign policy because we will, once again, be on the sidelines at a negotiation that the most important powers of the world are now taking very seriously – USA, EU, China – and where we could well have been an actor of consequence.”

Dr Adil Najam, former dean of LUMS and now dean of the Pardee School in Boston University. He is also the lead author of the UNFCCC report on Climate Change in 2007 that won the organisation the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Al Gore.


This is the view of the Pakistan Government’s representatives on climate change and COP21.

“Pakistan has taken many measures to voluntarily cut emissions. The fact that we have still kept the coal underground should be appreciated, especially as the country is facing a serious energy crunch. There is a development policy vision 2025 that is taking cognizance of the green development imperatives. We also have the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) going, even though it is in the initial stages. We are also one of the few countries which has the Initial National Communication process in place after a multi-stakeholder, inter-ministerial dialogue.

 “Pakistan also plans on holding a side event at COP21, where we will be focusing on the policy and institutional mechanisms that have been developed to cope with climate change. The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) came into being as a disaster management mechanism and as a social safety net. We need to come up with more bankable, saleable projects in the field of energy, agriculture and waste management to show climate compatible development initiatives.”

— Irfan Tariq, the Director General Environment in the Ministry of Climate Change.

“COP21 will be a weak deal if there are no binding mechanisms to enforce emission targets and, at best, it will be a course correction for 2020 when the targets and their effects will be assessed. Pakistan has taken voluntary measures at emission reductions despite being a negligible emitter. The Bahawalpur solar power is one such step towards energy efficiency, development of renewable energy resources, and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is an example. We can manage a 5% reduction but can go up to 10-20% by 2030 if climate financing is provided.

“Pakistan has also embarked on a technology needs assessment, though that is still in its infancy and may not yield much benefit in Paris. In the future, climate financing will become more clear as the Green Climate Fund is making good progress. Pakistan is seeking 6-7 million dollars, for its GLOF II project. Other financial mechanisms, like the Asian Development Bank’s support against vulnerability through its Disaster Response Management Fund can feed into NDMA for rehabilitation recovery and climate insurance. This is a totally new field that needs attention. “

— Dr Qamruzzaman Chaudhury, former Director General Met and author of Pakistan’s Climate Change Policy.  


This article was originally published in Newsline’s October 2015 issue.

Treacherous weather

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Treacherous weather

Raining on the farmers’ parade

Afia Salam

Rain is usually considered a harbinger of joy, happiness, and for agrarian based economies like ours, fortune and prosperity.  But something about the recent unexpected rain spells has been causing a lot of concern in the country. While city dwellers enjoy the cloudy relief from the sun, rural farmers are almost tearing their hair in despair. Like with everything else in the world, timing is everything.

The recent out of season downpour accompanied by hailstones the size of golf balls has come at a terrible time; the old crop was either being readied for harvest, or had been recently harvested during the cutting season, but was still in the fields and not in the safety of a warehouse or store.



Pictures by Aamer Hayat Bhandara

The farmers in the bread basket of Pakistan have suffered huge losses as a result. Explaining the dynamics of this abnormal occurrence, Pakistan’s Chief Meteorologist, Dr. Ghulam Rasool made a foreboding remark that a similar abnormality had occurred in 1997-98, which had resulted in a 3 year period of drought in Pakistan.

He was skeptical about the efficacy of the in-place early warning systems despite the fact that the Food Security Division of the Government stays well connected with the Pakistan Meteorological Department, which has a special section of farm sector specific weather information on its website. However, he says the task of outreach of that information lies with the Agriculture Extension Division, which has not been able to cover the farmer community in its entirety.

Giving details of the damage, Amir Hayat Bhandara, a farmer from the Pakpattan area shared pictures showing the damage to the standing as well as harvested crop. He says that damage is so extensive that the government should carry out an in-depth evaluation, and even declare the areas as calamity hit so they can be provided with relief through waivers of taxes, loan repayments, and subsidy support in the supply and pricing of agricultural inputs. He said farmers have also been calling for crop insurance in all districts in lieu of the unpredictability of the rainy season.


crop flattened by high winds and lashing rain

Pictures by Aamer Hayat Bhandara

Dr. Pervaiz Amir, Pakistan’s leading agro-economist and climate change expert says that the rains and hail, accompanied by high velocity winds have laid waste to wheat bundles in the fields, and have also damaged livestock.

The capricious weather will also have a negative affect on mango production. Dr. Amir warns that there will be a major reduction in mango yields due to the strong, windy conditions. This may result in at least a 25% or more increase in the price of mangoes. However, the reduced temperatures and moisture will prove beneficial for cotton sowing. It may even be good for sowing rice and preparing land for future use, and may also have a positive impact on fodder production.

In the context of climate change, adaptive measures through crop rotation will have to be enforced, drastically altering the current cropping calendar. He urges bridging the Information and knowledge gap and making farmers aware of the forecasted changes as the agricultural sector desperately needs to be climate proofed.

Dr. Qaiser, a research scholar studying the impacts of climate change on agriculture also cautions about not keeping pace with new developments, especially new pests and diseases that are likely to attack the crops in view of the changing climate. These will not be eradicated by the pesticides currently in use and may cause further damage.

The findings of a research project called ‘A Micro-Economic Study on Climate Change: Adaptation in the Indus Eco Region’, jointly conducted by WWF-Pakistan, LUMS (Lahore University of Management Sciences), LSE (London School of Economics) and supported by IDRC (International Development Research Center), warn of an almost 10% loss in agricultural productivity due to these impacts, which would compromise food security for Pakistan. This research was spearheaded by Dr. Adil Najam, former Vice Chancellor of LUMS, and a leading authority on the environment and climate change.

Even the National Climate Change Policy has articulated the existential threat of climate change to Pakistan. It very emphatically states that “only by devising and implementing appropriate adaptation measures will it be possible to ensure water, food and energy security for the country….”

Leading environmental lawyer Rafay Alam has listed the key adaptive measures that need to be taken to safeguard the agricultural sector.

They include changing the cropping pattern according to the availability of water, better production management, and more informed decision making on use of land. Of course this is directly linked to the judicious use of the available water resources, which are depleting, and planning for the future, coupled with research, and the dissemination of this information through farmer trainings and workshops.

However, all that has to be part of a long term, on-going strategy to safeguard the agricultural sector. For the present, the government needs to send its field forces out to assess damage and assist the farming community that has been hit hard by these untimely rainy spells. The long term plans will have to go hand in hand with damage control.

Afia Salam is a freelance journalist who writes about environment, climate change, media, digital freedom and gender issues

Written by afiasalam

June 5, 2014 at 3:30 pm

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April, 2013

Climate change: change we can?

Content-wise, the National Climate Change Policy is welcome even though a mixed bag. But what about implementing mechanisms?

Afia Salam

A large body of people, including scientists in the West, especially the U.S., is still debating the veracity of warnings pertaining to the rise in earth’s temperature and the resultant disasters clubbed under the term of Climate Change.

 On the other hand, countries that have been listed in the category of ‘threatened’ or ‘vulnerable’ have already started taking measures to deal with the threat, which has, in the recent past, proven to be a clear and present danger for them.

Small island nations like the Maldives, Bangladesh, India and even the UAE are far ahead of Pakistan in taking measures to combat the effects of Climate Change. They have put themselves out there for the world to notice and assist them in combating climate change through mitigation and adaptation measures.

They are rapidly turning to alternate energy, green buildings and zero carbon areas, even cities, something Pakistan probably needs to do on a day-before-yesterday basis!

Until now, Pakistan’s response, despite being ranked the highest on the global vulnerability index, had been sporadic and disjointed, and was more ‘project-oriented’ than planned.

The Ministry of Environment, which stood devolved in the aftermath of the 18th Amendment, was going through a crisis of identity. Not only was it divested of its powers, it also lost its name, and after a while morphed into the Ministry of Disaster Management, and has now finally evolved into the Ministry of Climate Change.

While Climate Change may not cover everything that falls under environment, at least it spurred efforts to finally come up with a plan to deal with it. This led to the unveiling of the National Climate Change Policy which was the culmination of the effort of the Task Force constituted in 2008 for its formulation by seeking inputs from stakeholders drawn from the scientific community, academia, NGOs and the civil society.

The areas of focus, especially in an under-developed country like Pakistan, of course, were water, food and energy security. It also talks about the conservation of the Third Pole, the glaciers in the Hindukush-Karakoram areas.

Disaster resilience and disaster risk reduction also had to be factored in due to the incontrovertible evidence of increase in extreme events impacting millions of lives as in the floods of 2010. The lean economy, too, has no cushion against the losses amounting to billions of dollars in the wake of such disasters.

Such events not only create environmental, human, economic, and social stresses, they set the country back on the achievement of development goals as it does not have the coping mechanism to absorb such repeated shocks.

This is exactly what has happened in Pakistan and our poor development indices are proof.

A World Bank report rings another warning bell for all countries falling within the South Asian region, of which Pakistan is a part.

It states that: ‘In the South Asia Region (SAR), the number of disasters per year has quadrupled over the past four decades. Resulting damages have accumulated to over US$25 billion in the past five years alone. Despite increasing disaster risk in SAR, awareness and understanding of this risk among individuals and governments remains low. As an emerging topic, exposure and vulnerability to natural hazards and their consequential impacts are not yet at the forefront of development agendas.’

So what does the National Climate Change Policy entail and how will it change the situation. It touches on all of the aforementioned issues, along with the conservation of biodiversity and issues related to the forest cover.

It adds to Pakistan’s collection of very well made policies, something the country is famous for. Its policies have even been adopted by other countries, like South Korea, which peaked as an economic power through its implementation.

Implementation at home, however, has always been the weakest link in the chain. The fears cited by those who have gone over the NCCP are no different. An important subject like the environment has been devolved, much against the reservations, and recommendations of the experts in the field.

It is now a provincial subject and in the hands of ministries and departments, who fall way short of the capacity to implement or govern this agenda or the vision contained within this agenda.

While critics of the devolution process have been saying it in other instances, too, here it has been pretty much a case of putting the cart before the horse. If even while the debate on the 18th Amendment was ongoing, and an effort had been made to upgrade and upscale the capacity of the provincial ministries, the situation may not have been so depressing.

However, in the current scenario, there is no answer to the question as to how the National Climate Change Policy will be implemented by the provinces when all related sectoral functions are also devolved, and disconnected; like agriculture, food, water, forestry, transport, which impacts the air quality, disaster management, etc. They do not fall under one umbrella.

On the governance front, too, while Punjab has functioning green courts, they do not exist elsewhere, and the writ of the EPAs has been flouted and violated in instances that are too many to recount!

Then, again on a broader level, the vision for the conservation of the glaciers is commendable but that transcends the borders of the country. That is a regional issue. How can a policy that has to be implemented by the provinces extend its writ to regional issues?

Then again, the issue of generating adequate financing for achieving all that is contained within the policy has not been clearly spelled out. Pakistan needs huge financial assistance to develop climate resilience.

At a recent forum, The Director General of Environment, MoCC informed the audience that at the U.N. Conference on Climate Change that was held in Doha in November-December 2012, Pakistan succeeded in the establishment of funding mechanism for preparation of National Adaptation Plans through special Climate Change funds operated by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Pakistan also successfully pursued the formation of an international mechanism for addressing the issue of “Loss and Damage” caused due to floods, sea level rise, Cyclones and other Climate related disasters.”

This is an encouraging move. But not enough is said in the policy about generating financing through Clean Development Mechanisms, or about emissions curbing through reforestation despite being a signatory of REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestations and forest Degradation).

The effects of Climate Change on heritage sites and the changing pattern of monsoon and its severity on aviation has also not been looked into adequately, despite the unfortunate crash of Bhoja Airlines which, in the opinion of aviation experts, as well as environmental experts, had all the elements of an unexpected weather phenomenon hitting the aircraft, causing it to crash.

Climate change’s impact on gender, health, and rapid urbanization, an increase in the number of cli-migrants or climate refugees has not been extensively dealt with either. And to reiterate, even if all these issues had been highlighted, one wonders what the implementing mechanisms were.

The fear is that like many other policies that spell out a vision without a clear roadmap with goals for implementation, this will remain a document that will become obsolete because of the lack of an action plan that needed to be rolled out in tandem.

What we have to wait and see at this juncture in our history is that with political parties readying themselves for elections and unveiling their manifestoes, how many have an understanding of critical national issues like these.

Commendably, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf got a head start by adding environment to its list of other policies for the electorate to ponder. What makes one sit up and take notice is the fact that it was prepared by Malik Amin Aslam, former minister of state for environment and current Global Vice Chairman of International Union for Conservation of Nature, and Climate Policy Advisor to the UNDP.

He is one of the few persons in Pakistan who command knowledge about how the carbon market works and how Pakistan can generate finance through the CDMs.

As far as our National Climate Change Policy is concerned, we really need to figure out how a global, transboundary issue can be tackled by implementers who are going to be largely provincial in focus!



Beware The Elements

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Changes in precipitation and drought cycles, humidity, water-table levels and ensuing soil chemistry will impact archaeological sites




Granted that a country, which is not able to take care of its living, is hardly likely to put its archaeological heritage on top of its priority list. However, it is about time attention was diverted towards this important issue.

To be fair, there was a time when Pakistan showcased its heritage for the world to see. And very proudly so. Over the years seven of its sites were included in the Unesco World Heritage site list:

• Archaeological Ruins at Mohenjo-Daro

• Buddhist Ruins of Takht-i-Bahi and Neighbouring City

• Remains at Sahr-i-Bahlol

• Fort and Shalamar Gardens in Lahore

• Historical Monuments at Makli, Thatta

• Rohtas Fort

• Taxila

Their unique importance in world history has been the reason for their inclusion. They are monitored carefully by the world body. Even the global importance of the other remains of previous civilizations has kept many international organizations and scholars interested in them and they and their state of preservation have been well documented.

Before the confusion created by the half-baked 18th Amendment kicked in and made a mish mash of the devolved, capacity-challenged provincial set-up, the Federal Archaeology Department under the Ministry of Culture, was taking care of all sites and explorations. Now, it is scratching its head trying to ensure that this heritage does not just crumble away.

However, the vagaries of time and weather are not the only phenomenon that one needs to worry about. There is also the looming specter of climate change that must be factored in all future plans for renovation and preservation of these sites.

Pakistan is already facing the impact through shifting monsoon patterns and frequent flooding and other natural disasters like cyclones. But are we looking at how these will impact monuments and ancient settlements? How can we help save our history from being wiped out?

When the Director General of Archaeology, Dr. Fazal Dad Kakar was asked about this, he said:

“The Department of Archaeology and Museums has not yet made any baseline study of the impact on climate change on the archaeological heritage of Pakistan. However, the Unesco World Heritage Centre (Paris) has made considerable progress in this regard. Unesco Expert Missions in collaboration with the State Parties to the Unesco World Heritage Convention is closely monitoring the impact of climate changes on World Heritage Sites. Reports of the Unesco Expert Missions about World Heritage sites and their suggestions for taking preventive measures on World Heritage Sites, against the adverse impacts of climate changing are equally useful for other archaeological sites”.

“In terms of actual effects on archaeology and the historic environment, climate change will have direct impact from rising sea levels and coastal erosion; more frequent storms and heavy rainfall episodes; flooding, landslips and erosion; changing seasonal patterns; drought and drying out of wetlands and archaeological sites.

The environment in which archaeological material is found is of great significance for how the material is protected. Climate change will also affect archaeological sites in different ways, depending on whether they are in air, earth, ice, snow or water.

Climate change can damage archaeological sites. Changes in precipitation and drought cycles, in humidity, water-table levels and ensuing soil chemistry will, inevitably, impact the conservation of archaeological remains.

Temperature rise, especially the melting of glaciers and rising sea levels are also expected to take their toll on the archaeological sites like Banbhore which are situated in coastal areas.

Rainfall and flooding due to climate change is already undermining the fragile earthen fabric of the World Heritage site of Mohenjo-Daro and other archaeological sites situated in the Indus Basin.

Of special concern is the fact that climate change may jeopardize the conservation of precious evidences whose existence is not even known today.

After devolution thanks to the 18th Amendment, archaeological sites handed over to the provinces are at risk, because, no uniform policy for protection and preservation of the cultural heritage sites has so far been formulated at the national level.

At present, cultural heritage sites and monuments are at the mercy of administrators and so-called conservationists. Their work is far removed from all norms and principles of conservation and integrity of the sites has been compromised. There should be a national strategy for protection of the cultural heritage from all human and naturally devastating elements.”

This certainly paints a pretty dismal picture of the situation on ground. Lack of cohesive national planning in matters that transcend provincial, even national boundaries is putting this valuable heritage at great risk.

To try and understand what exactly are the threats that the monuments and other historical treasures may face, Piquespoke to Dr. Pervaiz Amir, a climate change expert and member of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Climate change.

According to him, “even if looked at within Pakistan’s context, the climatic factors like snow, ice, fog, flash floods and sea level rise are likely to have a negative impact on the archaeological sites in different parts of Pakistan. While there is a danger that we may lose the ones located in Thatta and Badin completely, the elements mentioned here will enhance the effects of ice and snow, which are going to be particularly damaging to our sites and monuments in the northern regions due to the severity of weathering on the monuments.

“Similarly, fog, when it moves to the plains of Sindh will have an adverse effect on the structures, just as the extremely high temperatures will damage the brick and marble surfaces, and dull the tile works as is used in Multan and Sindh.

“Also, the shifting pattern of rainfall, as has been experienced this year and increase in its quantity and the resultant flash floods pose yet another threat. Over the long term however, we must be mindful of the period of impending drought likely to bring up salt content in the soil, which again would be damaging to the structures.

“Other than these climatic factors, one must look at the human dimension of the problem, too. Climate change is likely to result in human migration to safer places, and the pressure on resources will make it difficult to save the archaeological sites from human encroachments.”

These are dire warnings indeed, and need to be heeded on an urgent basis. There cannot be a piecemeal, province wise solution to things that require strategic thinking on a national level. Greater thought should have gone into the fallout of the 18th Amendment that devolved subjects like environment and archaeology to the provinces.

When Pique asked Shahid Sayeed Khan, Director of Indus Earth Trust, and an environmental architect, to explain how the changing climate can impact the archaeological sites, he said:

“The changing climate is not only affecting flora and fauna but also the built environment, especially our heritage which, in some instances, dates back more than 3000BC.

Excessive rainfall and floods have already affected Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. For years, the problem in these locations, was and still is excessive salinity which increases as the land gets water logged.

Drought has had the same affect on some of our legendary forts that are adjacent to deserts and salt ranges. Lack of moisture crumbles the stone or brick over time till it loses its strength, causing collapse of entire walls and roofs.

Soil erosion is perhaps, the greatest threat to our heritage. Naturally, if foundations are weakened the entire structure of a building is affected. Excessive water or the lack of it is now becoming apparent in Pakistan as it is now classified as one of five countries most affected by climate change.”

So what is it that can be done and who will do it? With the system of governance in disarray, whose help can Pakistan elicit to save these treasures for posterity?

Jawed Ali Khan, the Director General Environment, Ministry of Climate Change, had this to say:

“This is indeed a very important aspect towards which attention had not been paid in the past but it certainly deserves attention. Just as any other infrastructure or settlement is likely to be affected by the ravages of climate change, so will our archaeological sites across Pakistan.

Maybe organizations like Unesco can set up a fund that will address this important issue. We need experts to look into the threats that the archaeological heritage of Pakistan faces because this is a shared heritage of universal value.”

Dr. Harald Hauptmann of Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities

Research Unit Karakorum and archaeological expert on the Chilas heritage, told Pique: “Possible impact of climate change on archaeological heritage is a difficult theme. Organic materials such as manuscripts or wooden artifacts are better preserved in dry environments such as deserts or even in regions such as around Gilgit or Chilas, but increasing humidity as we noticed this summer will have an effect on those archaeological remains. But, there will be no damage on architectural remains or rock carvings along the Upper Indus. The danger for this historical heritage is caused by building activities, the upgrading of the KKH and future dam projects.”

All the experts Pique spoke to acknowledged that climate change poses a clear and present danger to the archeological treasure of Pakistan. What we need now is some action plan that can map out the threats, and chart a way forward to combat them.

The rich land

Pakistan is home to some of the oldest civilizations the world has known.

•Balochistan has cave paintings that date back to 18,000BC.

• Soan Valley has revealed the existence of Paleolithic sites, while the land is dotted with evidences of Mesolithic andNeolithic settlements.

• Mehergarh, which flourished about 7000 years ago, Indus Valley Civilization, whose towns of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappawere models of urban planning 5,500 years ago.

• Asoka left his edicts on obelisks, and we have temples at Hinglaj, in agar Parkar, at Katas Raj.

• The Buddhists rock carvings and monasteries and universities dot the valley that came to be known as Gandhara afterthem.

• The Muslims left relics like Bhambore, Makli, the beautiful tiled mausoleums of saints dotting the plains of Sindh andPunjab, the grand forts, palaces, mosques and final resting places of their pets, patriarchs, matriarchs, mentors andmistresses. Very few other countries can boast of such a diverse archaeological, historical and cultural richness.

Present and clear danger

On the global vulnerability index prepared by global agencies, Pakistan is right at the top in terms of likely climate change impact. In the words of the environmentalists, Pakistan is a ‘multi-threat’ country. Threats Pakistan is likely to face:

•Glacial melting in the northern areas will lead to flooding down stream.

• Loss of water source in north to result in drought in plains, especially the breadbasket.

• Rising temperatures will contribute to desertification.

• Sea level rise to flood coastal areas, resulting in massive destruction and displacement.

This article was originally published in PIQUE.

Written by afiasalam

November 21, 2012 at 5:54 am

Suspense that is killing

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Will there, or won’t there be floods this year? Amid a sense of foreboding stemming from past failure to meet the eventuality, there is also the spectre of drought in some areas…

In an agrarian country like Pakistan, the advent of monsoons has been associated with hope, happiness and festivity. This is the time  when farmers hope to reap the rewards of their hard work. They wait for monsoons to give life to their crops, and plan to use the earnings for things that require big spends, like marriage in the family, house repairs, buying livestock, tractor or a vehicle. All of this comes to nought if the monsoon does not bring enough rain, or brings too much rain, or comes at the ‘wrong’ time. Now, there may be Climate Change nay sayers elsewhere in the world, but you will not find many in Pakistan because here, it is not something that is going to happen, it is happening already! The shifting pattern of monsoon and its increasing ferocity has played havoc in more ways than one. To get the context right, we must keep in mind that 75% of the rainfall that Pakistan receives is dependent upon the monsoons. While it is debatable whether the devastation Pakistan witnessed in the wake of the  2010 floods was due to Climate Change or man-made factors of massive deforestation of the forests in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and encroachments in the river beds, one must be mindful of the fact that the amount of rainfall received was unprecedented.

This was again the cause of the devastation suffered by Sindh in 2011, when a cloud burst sent down more rain than could be handled by the channels and drains which overflew their banks. That, too, of course, was a disaster compounded by manmade factors of poor maintenance of the water courses, and bad planning of drains, especially the infamous LBOD, the Left Bank Outfall Drain, which allowed the back flow of sea water at the Tidal Link with the sea. The country is still grappling with the aftereffects of those two back-to-back disasters. There are still people living in temporary shelters in most parts of Sindh. Those who had been able to rehabilitate their homes and lands, are now apprehensive of what the coming monsoon may bring them.

Late June to September is usually the time when everyone looks skywards hoping for the clouds to bring rain. City dwellers have more reasons to fear them for reasons of poor urban planning and infrastructure maintenance. However, the farmers in Pakistan have already faced the brunt of a pre-monsoon, when sudden, and heavy rainfall accompanied by hail in March laid to waste vast tracts of standing crop and killed livestock in many parts of Punjab. This change in timing of the pre-monsoon and its ferocity in itself is a disaster that is not yet been accounted for. But are we also ready for an impending disaster in the wake of the monsoon in 2012?

Is there likely to be another mega flood? Have the institutions and departments learnt from the past shortcomings and taken preemptive measures? The million, or actually the billion dollar question is, will there or won’t there be another  flood come monsoon? Dharki area of Sindh had been hit by floods in 2010. A senior district official there has already been instructed to take measures. He said, “Contingency plans have been updated. Multi-agency coordination has been strengthened. Commissioners of divisions have conducted meetings with Army High Command regarding preparatory measures. List of volunteers have been provided at Taluka levels. Army personnel have visited the vulnerable areas and government machinery to be used in case of emergency.

He added, “Management plans have been prepared. Guidelines have been obtained from the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and its provincial chapter (PDMA). These authorities have started provision of some relief goods like temporary shelters to vulnerable districts i.e. Badin, Thatta etc. “As far as relief and rehabilitation is concerned, the government has almost completed the financial aid through Watan Card to last year’s flood victims. Moreover, NDMA and PDMA in liaison with international organizations are stocking food and non-food items.” While this is heartening to know, similar preparations had been ordered after the 2010 floods but still most districts, where the administration was not up to speed, suffered from a total breakdown of the system. Barring a couple of districts like Thatta and Badin, it was the civil society and INGOs who had to step in — and in a big way for assistance.

What has changed from the last two years that can bring in a level of comfort? The main reason, deforestation in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is still there so any rain there will run off downstream, taking with it whatever precious little soil cover that is there. Has a de-silting of the water channels been done? Have the dykes been strengthened? And who will be the watchdog over the breaches and cuts given by the powerful landlords who divert water from their lands on to the other, less powerful farmers? Has the design fault of LBOD been rectified? Have old water channels and dry river beds been rehabilitated so excess water can be diverted towards them or towards the desert areas to make artificial wetlands? All of the above questions require an answer in the context of a possibility of another flood. But are we expecting another one or is the NDMA drumming up panic without substantive reason. Is flood the only disaster Pakistan has to be mindful of?

If you look at the map of the forecast ( drawn up by the Pakistan Meteorological Department, you will see that there is another disaster that Pakistan may be facing — not of too much rain but of too little rain! At least in the breadbasket region of the country. Less than normal rainfall means less water in the rivers, and not just less water for irrigation, but less for electricity generation. Aside from the war-on-terror and political instability, issues of food and energy security are the ones that greatly impact the functioning of the country. Has a disaster management plan even been thought of in case of severe drought and food shortages and a worsening energy crisis? How will the turmoil they are going to result in be dealt with? The migration of population even within Pakistan has a huge socio-economic, as well as political impact, and the poverty-crime nexus only becomes stronger in the absence of any safeguards against weather induced uncertainties.

Met department warnings about more than normal rainfall in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, drought like conditions in the central and southern plains, and the shift of the monsoons to the Southwest, bringing a possibility of more than normal rainfall in the coastal belt of Sindh mean that a holistic response needs to be devised. We need to be prepared for floods in areas where there will be more than normal rainfall, but we need to have a visible strategy to combat effects of drought as well. Floods in our case may not just be a lot of water in the rivers and canals. If not adequately planned for, they could mean a flood of problems to contend with, which can be very destabilizing economically, as well as socially.

This article was originally published on PIQUE.

Written by afiasalam

September 11, 2012 at 11:08 am