Climate catastrophe – 22 Aug 2022

AWAY from the media`s limelight, which remains almost completely riveted on the drama playing out in Islamabad, a wave of death and destruction continues to wash over Pakistan. From the heights of the Himalayas to the shores of the Arabian Sea, floods triggered by heavy rainfall continue to wreak havoc, destroying livelihoods and sweeping away entire settlements, leaving death and misery in their wake. Climate change is no longer an abstract doomsayer`s warning: the climate has changed, and it has caught us completely unprepared. The Pakistan Meteorological Department has said as much in reference to the 385pc higher rainfall in Sindh and 371pc higher rainfall in Balochistan so far this summer. The unseasonably high rainfall had been preceded by back-to-back heatwaves in the two provinces, which created the conditions necessary for the disaster that later unfolded. There are strong fears that these extreme weather patterns may become the `new normal` for Pakistan.

Every day seems to add to the death toll from this year`s rains, with Balochistan seemingly the worst-affected province. It is unfortunate, given the scale of destruction that is being faced, that there seems to have been no effort so far to formally map the disaster-struck areas or highlight the geographical zones which continue to face increased risk. If such information has, in fact, been collated by any authority, it must be shared publicly so that the scale and nature of the disaster seen this summer can be studied for the future. It also seems that disaster response is still being conducted on an ad hoc basis rather than under a strategy to pre-empt loss of life and livelihood. This must change.

The destruction of life and property at the scale seen this year makes for a very expensive lesson for administrators and provincial governments to learn what their development priorities ought to be for the future. Clearly, climate resilience must be the defining feature of any rehabilitation and reconstruction work done from this point on. The infrastructure that has been destroyed and the villages that have been wiped off the face of the earth must be rebuilt, keeping in mind that what has happened this year can and will most likely happen again: if not next year, then the next, or the year after. Apart from that, a massive effort will also need to be put into educating the citizenry at the community level about how they can adapt to the changing climate. Where to build settlements and plant crops, how to protect lives and livestock, and how to survive during a natural disaster are just some necessary areas where the government can provide support by linking experts to the citizenry.

The changing climate requires a bottom-up approach to adaptation if we want to survive. That should be the primary focus once the reconstruction starts.

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