A multifaceted threat to security of Pakistan
Humankind is faced with a looming climate crisis. An immediate, perpetual and common response to cope with this situation is inevitable. According to a 2018 report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there are only 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5°C, a threshold beyond which irreversible chain reaction would occur. Even an increase of half a degree will seriously worsen the risk of floods, droughts, extreme heat waves and poverty for millions of people. The effects of the climate change are appearing across the world in the form of fires, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and recurrent hurricanes.
Climate change is an evolving, living and dynamic threat than cannot be ignored. Over the years, this phenomenon has evolved from an environmental issue to a significant security challenge. Its seriousness can be underlined that it is being debated in security as well as in development apparatus. In today’s national security arrangements, it has added new stress and hostile factors which have serious implications. It can act as a catalyst for inauspicious political, economic and social change, if not engaged effectively.
A recent report by World Meteorological Organization (WMO)—released on the 10th March 2020—says that several heat records have been broken in recent years and decades; last year was recorded as the second warmest on record, with 2016 being the warmest year so far. However, last decade (2011-2020) was the warmest on record.
In 2019, fierce weather events, some of which were unusual in scale, took place in many regions of the world. The monsoon experienced rainfall above the long-term mean in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar. Besides, flooding claimed some 2,200 lives in the region. Moreover, Australia witnessed its driest year ever, and Central America, parts of Southern America and Southern Africa received abnormally low rains. Some regions of South America were also hit by floods in January. In the United States alone, around $20 billion were estimated in total economic losses.
Hence, there is o denying the fact that climate change has impacted every region of the world, but, the vulnerability is much higher in the Global South than that in the Global North, including Australia and New Zealand. Most of the world’s 820 million undernourished people inhabit these two continents. Ironically, the world’s top 10 GHG-emitting countries account for 62% of the total global greenhouse gases (GHGs)—China being the biggest emitter at 26%, followed by the United States, European Union, and India, with 13%, 7.8% and 6.7%, respectively. It is perplexing to note that the huge price for this is paid by developing countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, which are already facing severe socio-economic problems and are unable to meet basic necessities for their citizens. Needless to say, it could be a threat to the very existence such countries in coming decades, if not combated at the earliest.
In Pakistan’s context, climate change can act as a threat multiplier. Amid decreasing water per capita, burgeoning population and flattering economy, an addition of climate crisis is likely to make the equation more complex. Although Pakistan makes a negligible contribution of 0.34% to the GHG emissions, it suffers disproportionately due to its geographical location.
The Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) 2020, released by a think-tank Germanwatch on 15th January 2020, ranked Pakistan 5th among the countries most vulnerable to climate change. The country suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion, lost 9,989 lives and witnessed 152 extreme weather events from 1999 to 2018. It further reported that Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change is also increasing. The impacts on the country are already visible in the form of changing hydrological cycle, changing precipitation pattern, frequency and intensity of heat waves, water-availability periods, droughts, precipitation events and water-induced natural disaster.
Climate change has made Pakistan’s already volatile matrix more complex, posing direct threat to its security. National security means safeguarding the interests and well-being of the masses within the geographical boundaries of a country. Its matrix related to climate change mainly rotates around water security (availability), and it’s the most elastic component. Besides, floods, decreasing glaciers, drought and sea intrusion are major threats. If not addressed effectively, it would prove catastrophic for the population as food security and economy will be jeopardized. Eventually, it will have far-reaching consequences in the shape of mass movements in search of livelihoods, social unrest and inter-provincial harmony. Following are the main daunting challenges, having potential to jeopardize the security of the state.
Firstly, the per-capita availability of surface water has decreased— from water-abundant country with 5,260 cubic metres per year in 1951 to around 1000 cubic metres in 2016—with rapidly growing population, heading towards a situation of water shortage. This quantity is likely to further decline to around 860 cubic metres by 2025, making the country’s transition from water-stressed to water-scarce.
The severity of the emerging water crisis has been red-flagged. It can be realized by a letter, dated 25th February 2015, which the then-chairman of Indus River System Authority (IRSA) wrote to the federal government, asking for the freeze of country’s entire development budget for the next five years, and to divert it towards the construction of major water reservoirs on a war footing, since agriculture was the backbone of the country. The total availability of water to the country is 145 MAF, average flow in the Indus River annually, and provides water for 77% of the population, while the existing live storage capacity is 14.10MAF, i.e. 9.7% only. However, according to a Dutch study, about 60% of Indus waters are contributed by Himalayan melts, and there is a possibility of an 8.4% decrease in upstream water flows in the Indus as a result of climate change by 2050. Needless to say, declining water availability is one of the severest security challenges, just like terrorism and extremism that confront Pakistan. It could translate into political instability and security risk.
Secondly, being an agrarian economy, with about 60% of the country’s total population in rural areas is linked to agricultural activities directly or indirectly, the implications are even grimmer. Despite the declining share in GDP to 20%, it still remains the backbone of the country’s economy. In addition, it absorbs 43.7% of the country’s labour force. This sector also provides more than 70% of the raw material for manufactured exports. The IMF has already warned that since agriculture depends on water, any shortage of it could lead to food insecurity, raised productions costs and contracted productivity growth.
Thirdly, a combination of sea intrusion and erosion has inundated several Indus delta islands; mainly, in Badin, Thatta and Sajwal districts of Sindh, in the last few decades. It has also compelled local communities to migrate to nearby districts or Karachi, the economic hub of the country. As many as 80% of the five million people, which once lived along the banks of the Indus delta earning their livelihoods through farming and fishing, have migrated.
Moreover, due to rising sea levels, worsening of ecosystem at delta and decreasing river flow into the Arabian Sea, have miserably affected the aquatic creatures and mangroves. Notably, mangroves act as first line of defence against cyclones and tsunamis. However, its forest has been decreased from 400,000 hectares in 1945 to 70,000 in 2016.
Fourthly and finally, climate change has exposed the country’s population to fierce health-related challenges. Unfortunately, Covid-19 pandemic has proved fatal to developing countries economically because they do not have enough fiscal space to bear the burden of long-term lockdowns. Although there is no evidence suggesting that the pandemic was caused by global warming, yet it would be too early to rule out the possibility that it was not ignited by climate change. Recurrent erupting of such pandemics could destabilize the country which is already grappling with various challenges.
It is worth mentioning here that scientific community has listed several broad areas in which climate change will affect health: temperature-related deaths and illness, air quality, vector-borne and viral diseases, water-related illnesses and food safety and nutrition. Various WHO studies have already predicted climate-induced epidemics and pandemics.
It is truth that Pakistan is suffering from “climate injustice. While the developed countries have huge contributions to damaging the climate, the developing ones are major sufferers. Nevertheless, taking into account the intensity of the challenge and gravity of the matter, unusual decisions have to be taken without delay. Pakistan’s Water Policy was adopted in 2018 after much consideration. As usual, a bigger question still remains on its implementation and execution, especially with respect to provincial coordination.
So far there are no indications that temperature increase will be contained between 1°C and 2°C. Commitments made under Paris Climate Accord of 2015 are not legally binding. Therefore, the accord could not be relied as an international tool for assuring compliance.
It manifests that each country will have to use available local resources, capacities and technologies to build adaptive resilience in order to deal the climate crisis. It’s a decisive time for Pakistan’s public managers and policymakers to take unusual and timely decisions.