Sunday, April 23, 2017

Climate change is a human rights issue

Start discussing environmental issues with someone who is not part of the subject and the discussion is usually going to end with the statement that we have far worse issues to deal with and giving priority to environmental issues is the problem of the first world. This is far from the truth. In fact climate change is a human rights issue and it is time that we own it. According to German Watch Climate Risk Index 2015, Pakistan is the 6th most affected county by climate change.

Following five major risks related to climate change have been listed in a World Bank report:
  • Rise in sea level
  • Glacial retreats
  • Floods
  • Higher average temperature
  • Higher frequency of droughts
Unfortunately Pakistan faces all these risks first hand. Recent reports are suggesting that with the current rate of increase in sea levels, Karachi would be completely submerged by 2060. Last year was declared the hottest year, breaking all previous records. Not to forget the massive floods and droughts that the country has seen in recent years.
The consecutive floods that hit Pakistan in 2010 and 2011 have been termed more serious humanitarian disasters than South Asian tsunami and earthquake in Kashmir and Haiti. One-fifth of the country was swamped by these floods affecting 18 million people. The death toll touched 1,985.

For an agriculture-based country with its seventy per cent population living in the rural areas, these impacts of climate change are a reality, not a theoretical debate points. The World Bank report states that the average annual temperature increase figure are going to be something like 1.31 C in 2020s, 2.54 C in 2050s and 4.38 C by 2080s. This increase in the average temperature is going to have a drastic impact on the agriculture, declining the crop yields. South Asia’s cereal yield is said to decrease by thirty per cent due to the decreasing gross per capita water availability.
“Sixty five per cent of the flow of the River Indus depends on glaciers, so if their mass is reducing we need more studies to see the trends. These glaciers are the country’s water tanks and their melting will impact our agricultural security, our food security and our power generation”, says Abdul Qadir from UNDP.
The gap for food shortage is being filled with artificially speeding the yield and growth of food, which might look good in figures but at the same time is causing various health issues. In addition to being a huge health problem this is an equally major economic issue for our developing country where the majority cannot afford the increasing healthcare costs.
The disasters are not just limited to floods, there are droughts and the Thar drought is an example of how climate change is capable of causing humanitarian disasters. Relief actions and aid for these areas are not a long term solution. For too long we have been managing from disaster to disaster. If climate change is not accepted as a reality and long term solutions are not opted for, the cycle is bound to repeat itself.
Running away from the problems is a race no one has ever won and this is not going to change.
This blog post was originally written for WWF-Pakistan 

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