A “crisis around the corner”: Climate change’s devastating impact on Pakistan

MediaGlobal Correspondent Jessica Karcz interviews Pakistan Ambassador Masood Khan

Photographs and videography by Ang Chen

The world is suffering from many side effects of climate change including floods, droughts, sea level rise, glacial retreats, extreme weather events, and higher temperatures. Pakistan Ambassador Masood Khan has worked to strengthen efforts in combating climate change. He co-chaired a meeting on the “Security Dimension of Climate Change” last February, where he calls for “action to guard our ecosystem, to save our infrastructure, and to ensure that food, water and land remain available.”

Jessica Karcz: Ambassador Khan, Pakistan’s dry climate, mountainous terrain, and substantial population growth there has put a pressure on limited resources. Can you elaborate on the current situation and the impact on the Indus River Basin?

Ambassador Khan: Climate change is a big challenge for the entire world and it is for Pakistan. Ecosystems are much more fragile because of climate change and it has impacted Pakistan also. We had a massive earthquake in 2005, we had floods in 2010 and 2011. We are worried about it. Our planning is now moving beyond disaster management because we have to factor in long term considerations and policy options and that is precisely what we are doing. In fact we are focusing on preventing disasters. Climate change has impacted agriculture. We do not have droughts, but floods cause havoc every year.

Q: What measures are you taking towards adaptation?

A: We have to take measures to make our economy much more resilient, but these are partial measures. This is a global problem and we need to take global measures. Climate impact does not spare a developed or developing country. Last year, the United States was hit by Sandy, this year the Philippines was hit by Haiyan Typhoon. I believe that while we will work on the national level, we also need an international strategy. There is one within the context of the United Nations after Rio + 20 to address two issues: poverty alleviation and a focus on sustainable development.

Q: The Pakistan government has a 0.04% budget that goes to environmental protection and the rest from developed countries who provide most of the environmental protection funds. This limits the government’s ability to enforce environmental regulations and private industries often lack funds to meet environmental standards. What is Pakistan’s position on this? Is the budget going to increase?

A: Our budgetary allocation is inadequate even if it is supplemented by international sources. Domestic allocation of resources is required and the government has focused on that, but I would say that in Pakistan our biggest challenge is raising awareness. We have to make people aware and this includes all segments of society. That includes decision makers, civil society, and ordinary citizens. They have to become aware of what difficulties or challenges lie ahead and how we should strategize to avert the crisis that is round the corner if we do not take immediate measures. We have some agencies in Pakistan as also institutions in the federal level and ministries at the provincial level. Then we have disaster management authority and it has its representation in the provinces. It has an elaborate framework and they are doing well. I think the climate change issue has to move up on the agenda of leadership; it needs the attentions of the prime minister, of the cabinet, of all the political parties that are represented in parliament. We need to mobilize resources. We need to enlist the support of the international community.

Q: How does Pakistan plan to raise climate awareness?

Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN Ambassador Masood Khan interviewed by UNEARTH News correspondent Jessica Karcz. Photo credit: UNEARTH News/Ang Chen

Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN Ambassador Masood Khan interviewed by UNEARTH News correspondent Jessica Karcz. Photo credit: UNEARTH News/Ang Chen

A: Through the media. Pakistan has many 24/7 television channels and the radio connection is quite good all around. The government wants to raise awareness and create synergy by inviting all the stakeholders. The government recently held a big conference with all stakeholders and climate change was one of the subjects that we discussed. It is not a subject that you need to discuss, one needs to take measures, the governments need to take measures. Our ministry is planning for the next ten years, our economic policy, our social economic and environmental policy and, climate change is a key constituent of that policy.

Q: Considering the fact that agriculture accounts for more than one-fifth of Pakistan’s economic output and two-fifths of employment due to dry climate and floods you have experienced a decrease in crop yields in some parts of the country. What is Pakistan’s plan of action moving forward?

A: Agriculture is the mainstay of our economy and it is a huge chunk of our economy. It produces cash crops that we export, so it is a very important key sector in Pakistan’s economy. Yes, over the years yield has gone down, but this is not a uniform pattern because yields of many crops: cotton, wheat, rice, rapeseed oil, they have all gone up in many areas in Pakistan. We have many agricultural colleges and universities in Pakistan that do research all the time. We have plenty of water but we can’t save it during floods, we do not have reservoirs or reserves where we can contain that water. This is being contemplated very actively every year. Some catchments of water are drying up. If we focus on afforestation, we will be able to increase the number of catchments that can hold water.

In agriculture we have another challenge. This challenge is that we usually export raw materials or semi finished materials particularly in cotton, we export cotton yarn and semi finished textiles. We are now focusing on skill development and value addition, so that when these cash crops are manufactured and processed, they can bring in additional revenue. I believe that these measures will help us turn agriculture around.

Q:  Besides raising awareness what are other difficulties Pakistan is facing in order to achieve its climate change goals?

A:  I would say that our economic growth has slowed down in the past four or five years, so we have to accelerate our growth rate. If our economy bounces back, we will have more manufacturing, a more robust agriculture, and then we will have resources available for climate change adaptation as well. It basically boils down to mobilization of resources, both domestic and international. The Pakistan economy is doing well. It is forecasted that this year and the year after that, our growth will pick up momentum and we would be able to sell a high number of products in international markets. There is already macroeconomic stability but we want to make it sustainable. Despite the financial crisis, our economy has been growing, but not at the rate we would like to see it grow.

Q:  Out of all of the side effects of climate change including some we mentioned, floods and its impact on agriculture, sea level rise, glacial retreats, and higher temperatures, which one affects Pakistan the most?

A:  Disaster, national disasters. We talked about earthquakes, and there are some very volatile frontlines there, passing through our territories, and floods. Once these disasters strike, they make life miserable for all the citizens, and the entire nation suffers.

Published inUNEarth News


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