FIRST year of the third decade of the 21st Century has begun with various challenges for the world, region and Pakistan. Global challenge of overcoming the Covid-19 has brought the world together in sharing information. The change of guard at the White House is expected to end the earlier isolationism of USA to join the world already united to fight the pandemic effectively.
The pre-Covid mega challenge of climate change and the global efforts are now expected to get the shot in the arm with Washington rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement. The green gas emission melting the snow, unprecedented rains bringing floods, sea level rise eroding the coastal areas are challenges waiting to be combated globally.
Pakistan is the least contributor to global warming yet the 5th worst affected country due to climate change. The HKH mountains are shared by regional countries therefore the challenge has to be met at regional level. The Indus Basin emanating from Himalaya shared between China, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan flows down into the Arabian Sea. Thus, the interdependency of regional countries and the compulsion of cooperation.
Several regional institutions are in place, amongst them is ‘International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’ which brings countries together for science-based solutions for planning and decision making. In addition to Upper Indus, efforts are in place in Lower Indus by organizations like IUCN, WWF and many others. However, the magnitude of challenges requires greater collaboration between science and policy.
Pakistan has 1085 km of coastal belt in its two provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan. This coastal belt has a mega city of Karachi with its two ports Karachi Port and Bin Qasim Port in Sindh and a strategic port of Gwadar and Gadiani the ship breaking city in Baluchistan. The coastline has major industrial estates and wind corridors for Renewable Energy (RE) as well as rich coastal ecosystem which is highly vulnerable to fast changing climatic conditions imperiling human existence in the coastal communities triggering severe water, food, energy insecurities in the region.
Access to drinking water is an emerging issue both in the coastal, urban and peri-urban areas. Ground water has almost become inaccessible due to persistent drought, over exploitation and lack of effective management. Ketibander, Sujawal and Badin once known for agriculture and fisheries Ports have lost 40% agricultural land to coastal erosion, and sea water intrusion resulting in serious livelihood challenges for local communities.
Karachi has reported in this century over 1000 deaths due to high temperature. Increasing frequency of the tropical cyclones in the Arabian Sea has been washing the shores due to heavy downpour, storm surges and associated gale winds posing threat to the urban infrastructure and coastal ecosystem. Sea level rise, intrusion of sea water into arable land, diminishing environmental flows to the Indus Delta and thinning population of mangroves are the challenges.
Pakistan’s coastal area harboring coastal precious ecosystems and biodiversity offer tremendous opportunities for social, economic and environmental development. CPEC like projects can increase their efficacy. These and many other reasons call for an immediate coastal climate action with the objective of protecting, preserving and developing water environment of coastal Pakistan from climate change challenges; in cooperation with national, regional and international stakeholders.
All stakeholders need to shun working in silos and come to common platforms. This can be done through dialogue and collaborative efforts of all stakeholders from private and public sectors for the good of the people of Pakistan.
—The writer, a former Federal Information Minister, is Chairman, Water Environment Forum, Pakistan.