By Ardeshir Cowasjee
Sunday, 22 Aug, 2010 For Dawn,
According to certain estimates made by international environmental experts the rich countries of the world must share at least two-thirds of the blame for the floods in our country. It is generally projected that global warming is promoting excessive rains and, consequently, cataclysmic floods.
The largest part of historic moral responsibility for anthropogenic climate change can be approximately assigned as follows: US 25.6 per cent, EU 15.9 per cent, OPEC 7.4 per cent, Russia 7.3 per cent, China 6.4 per cent, and Japan 2.8 per cent.
The Economist of Aug 12 in an article on ‘How the heatwave in Russia is connected to floods in Pakistan’, explained that air movements (Rossby waves) in the upper atmosphere which generally move east or west but sometimes stand still, lock the weather below them. Low pressures over central and eastern Europe and Pakistan are now producing excessive rains and floods, catastrophic over the latter region. High pressures over Russia are generating droughts and record temperatures.
“As Russia burns to a crisp, thousands of kilometres to the south-west torrential storms visit unprecedented flooding on Pakistan. Both events can be attributed to the same large-scale pattern of atmospheric circulation. They are also both the sort of thing climate scientists expect more of in a warming world.”
“No single one of those events can be directly attributed to climate change; nor can Russia’s heatwave. The pattern of increases, though, fits expectations — and those expectations see things getting worse.”
Added to this, as a rule-of-thumb, a loss of 10 per cent of food output results from every degree centigrade in world temperature.
We in Pakistan have added to the problem. Our continuing deforestation by the ‘timber-mafia’ (second-highest rate in the world, with forest cover to be virtually eliminated by 2020) along mountain slopes in the northern provinces, Punjab and the kacha/riverine areas in Sindh has contributed in several ways: decimation of a valuable carbon sink which absorbs greenhouse gases; reduction in the capacity of ground vegetation/soil to temporarily retain rainwater, enabling it to percolate into the ground, thus lessening the flood effect; and washing away top-soil into the rivers to silt up dams and barrages, lowering their capacity for flood-control.
Less than 2.5 per cent of our land is forested, and Pakistan’s Millennium Development Goal was to increase it to six per cent. Instead, over 1990-2000, Pakistan annual deforestation rate was 1.63 per cent. Over 2000-2005 (during the tenure of Musharraf, who promised environmentalists that he would “plant two trees for every tree my government cut down”) the rate dropped to 2.02 per cent. The moratorium on timber harvesting imposed after the 1992 floods became completely meaningless.
To date, the UN estimates that flood damage to crops, livestock and houses in Pakistan could exceed $1bn. More than 15 million persons are affected (more than the combined total of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake) while the death toll is over 1,600.
Ministers from the provincial and federal governments are prancing around disaster areas for photo sessions — scoring points for the next elections. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani visited two dummy relief camps set up by the National Disaster Management Authority with actor-patients, to distribute Rs5,000 relief cheques. President Asif Ali Zardari, who has ceded all powers to the prime minister, when the floods set in had a gallivant around France and the UK, visiting President Nicolas Sarkozy and the Zardari ‘family’ chateau, giving Prime Minister David Cameron a piece of his mind, dodging footwear in Birmingham, and allegedly “raising world sympathy” for the flood victims.
Knowing that much of the aid money channelled through government agencies will be siphoned off to private pockets, international donors, foreign governments and local citizens are extremely reluctant to give to official channels. Voluntary groups like the Edhi Foundation, Citizens’ Foundation (US tax benefits for donations), Omar Asghar Khan Foundation, and many other organisations are faring better as they, along with the military, are mobilising their networks around the country to get food and other help to the flood-affected.
Prime Minister Gilani, honestly admitting that his government is dishonest and totally untrustworthy, agreeing with Mian Nawaz Sharif, proposed a government-sponsored body to be run by non-political figures with credibility who will see that the money that trickles in goes to those it is meant for. It has not been allowed to take off. This incompetent, ill prepared, uninspiring and non-visionary leadership gifted to us through a dubious ‘deal’ is all we have — we have no option but to lump it until someone or something comes to the rescue of this miserable country.
As they did in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake, organised extremist groups are making inroads into the demoralised flood-affected populations by distributing food, tents and cash. Do we need a replay of the military Operation Rah-i-Raast to dislodge militants from ‘captured’ regions?
Where must we look for compensation for the direct damage? And for the un-definable harm to the national morale? The principle of ‘polluter pays’ should apply.
In 2007, a blue-ribbon panel of 11 retired three and four-star admirals and generals (no tree-hugging environmentalists!) worked with CAN (Centre for Naval Analyses) Corporation to produce a study, National Security & the Threat of Climate Change. This report warned the Bush administration that projected climate change posed a serious threat to America’s national security, acted as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world (read Pakistan), and would add to tensions even in stable regions.
Can the responsible ‘polluters’ get their act together quickly to tackle the risk of ‘threat multiplication’?