Floods 2022: A catastrophe calls for urgent local and global climate action
Dr. Farrukh Chishtie
More than 33 million people are affected and one third of the country were inundated in the 2022 floods in Pakistan leading to tragic losses. This which was preceded by intense heat waves in India and Pakistan. These cascading climate impacts are increasing in their frequency and intensifying. This is an urgent call to climate action needed at both global and local levels.
The 2022 floods, an ongoing climate catastrophe in Pakistan requires not only humanitarian relief, but more fundamentally, a drastic cut in GHG emissions by the global north, as this root cause is precipitating these tragic and intensifying impacts. We need leadership in both Pakistan and countries in the global north that acts radically to not only change but also promotes these changes by being an example to other countries and top polluters like Canada and the USA. Politics led largely by the liberals and conservatives for the past three decades have failed to act and reduce these emissions, and their existing climate plans fall short of contributing significantly to limit the global warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade and more importantly failing to address this as a global equity issue, whereby we have to reduce more in order to redress a planetary crisis where most nations, have failed to follow through on any international commitment on emission reduction. More dangerously, with increasing emissions and failure to act, climate disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity, leading to larger losses than in the past. With more than 33 million people affected and one third of the country inundated in the ongoing 2022 floods in Pakistan, which was preceded by intense heat waves in India and Pakistan, these climate impacts are cascading and intensifying. To contrast such an event in the past, for example, there were 20 million people affected in the 2010 Super Flood event in Pakistan. The frequency and increasing extent of these disasters along with cascading effect is staggering while the suffering for all affected, including biodiversity, is unimaginable. If we do not act now, the future is stark indeed!
The global north recognizes these impacts in Pakistan by sending aid, but these barely which only act as a band-aid, as action towards the deeper root cause of these disasters remains paralyzed in favor of fossil fuel subsidies and ongoing investments with plans to continue production. The lack of action and political will to significantly reduce address these impacts therefore remain superficial, and hurt not only Canada, but the rest of the planet when fossil fuel subsidies are continued, and pipelines continue to be built. This lack of vision is reflected not only internationally, but even in a meagre climate adaptation plan devised for Canada, which fails to address related systemic inequities. This is especially in relation to indigenous communities and ongoing climate change impacts here and speaks to a short-sighted adherence of legacy politics favoring corporate interests, including fossil fuel industries, despite all the evidence shared by concerned citizens, scientists, and advocates over the past decades.
The amount of suffering of people and the loss biodiversity from these cascading climate disasters is staggering. As someone who worked to provide relief in the 2010 super flood as well as 2011 and 2012 floods from the Subh-e-Nau team, I am absolutely devastated.
So, while the call to donate to the various charities that help in the Pakistan floods is there, we call out legacy politicians in the global north to shift and implement a drastic reduction of GHG emissions and phasing out of fossil fuels – not only for securing their powerful nations, but for a safe planet for all.
The dual impacts of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic are terrifying, and intensifying, while the number of such events are increasing across the globe. In the face of this growing crisis, how do we respond, especially in Pakistan? Sustainability practices such as restoration of greenery, especially in urban centers and conservation practices are daily measures which we can all take to respond in a responsible and comprehensive manner.
Amongst these climate impacts, last year, the 2021 monsoon wreaked havoc across Pakistan, with more than 40 people killed and flash floods happening across parts of the country. Climate change is leading to these impacts, and to rectify the situation in Pakistan, we must change our ways and move towards sustainability practices to contend with these disasters in a planned and phased manner, else the continued impacts will only lead to further misery and mayhem. In 2020, 400 people were killed due to floods and 200,000 homes lost, and millions displaced as a result. Karachi faced a record level of rainfall with a whopping single day of 345 mm of rain drowning our “city of lights” in floods and misery. This broke the previous record set 298.4 mm set in 1984. Moreover, in a single week of August 28, 2020, another record breaking 760 mm of rain was recorded. With more than 41 killed in Karachi alone, the rest of the country also struggled with extreme rainfall in the North and North western parts of the country also facing floods at another scale. Karachi faced shortage due to electricity outages, fuel supplies and the urban flooding due to blocked drainages.
So, the trends are terrifying, and as the 2022 floods have shown, the impacts are very likely to increase in the future, so we must prepare in Pakistan as well.
Trees: Natural defense from disasters
Forests provide natural dampening mechanisms against disasters including extreme weather. Not only do trees save our mountains and lands from collapse but also help in mitigating the damage by floods. Thus, the help against climate change itself, which the biggest challenge faced by the entire humanity’s survival. Burning of fossil fuels gives rise to air pollution leads the way in causing recent and alarming trends in global warming. This dangerous and mostly unchecked human activity results in the release of so-called “greenhouse gases” which have the property of absorbing and trapping outgoing solar radiation in the atmosphere. As the radiation is trapped, this ultimately increases the temperature of the planet and results in abnormal shifts in weather which leads to greater intensity and impact of natural disasters.
The second leading cause that aggravates these dangerous effects is the massive deforestation that is occurring across the planet. To convert sunlight into food, photosynthesis as a mechanism is used within plants and trees which involves in absorbing carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. Oxygen is also released in the process and hence the air is purified as a result. Therefore, forests act as massive carbon dioxide sinks, while not only starting the very food chain that sustains all life forms, but also defending us against the harmful effects of air pollution and global warming as a result. Droughts and increased flooding, which occur on a much more prolonged and intense levels in Pakistan are due to such changes as well and consistently damage our economy as a result.
In fact, destruction of forests has been the key element in the increased devastation caused by recent natural calamities. The Indian Ocean tsunami which lashed with all its fury on the coastlines of countries could have been soothed by mangrove forests, which were cut down due to short term economic benefits like shrimp farming and fostering the tourist industry. Mangrove forests not just enrich the local communities of all living beings with nutrition and life – they are natural buffers which efficiently dissipate the energetic impact of high-speed winds and large-scale waves which characterize inclement coastal conditions ranging from cyclones to tsunamis. Hurricane Katrina unleashed itself on New Orleans as wetlands, which provide cover against storm surges were eliminated in favor of developing oil rigs, highways, and shopping malls.
If such strategies are not in place, then the crippling blows to economy due to natural disasters renders any steps of progress completely ineffectual. To comprehensively tackle climate change impacts, a disaster risk reduction plan must be developed. In this regard, the key to any well-designed disaster risk management strategy is not only focusing on response with short-term steps to ensure recovery, but long-term step mitigation strategies need to be in place as well. This is necessary to prevent greater losses from occurring. Tree plantation and care for the environment is one of these emerging strategies as we are scientifically understanding the importance of such natural protection mechanisms which also means lesser costs involved, when a natural disaster strike. Efforts to curb global warming center on reining in emissions from burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories, and cars in industrial nations, which we should take a part in. However, planting of trees is much more achievable targets for developing nations due to the low economic cost and skill involved.
Active afforestation drives should be also augmented with education of those involved in the activity. This should center on the reasons and the protection trees and greenery provide against such calamities. A disaster resilient nation that is ready to tackle any obstacle in its path to prosperity and well-being cannot be rendered a reality without long term measures. There are no short cuts to long term sustainable development for all, and defense against locust invasions and such threats to our food security are to be adapted to by strengthening our ecosystems starting now.
Countrywide plantation on the National Day for Plantation
By announcing seasons of plantation as major events, as well as acting practically on the “National Day for Plantation” on Independence Day, the involvement of a large section of the population can be made to contribute towards a positive and meaningful cause.
The results, which will of course rejuvenate Pakistan in all sorts of ways will bring our communities and together and unite them for just causes. It will complement existing efforts by our government such as the Billion Tree Tsunami campaign. Additionally, in such plantation drives, we enhance the civic duty and responsibility that is incumbent on our youth. Pakistan sits at a precarious 5% forest cover, against a required 25%; this cannot simply be reached by the government and authorities due to limited resources.
Subh-e-Nau played a key role in advocating for a “National Day for Plantation”, which is now mandated on August 18, but we can begin now and plant all year long till Pakistan is truly clean and green. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) states: “If the Hour (the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it.” (Authenticated by Al-Albani).
Practically implementing such timeless wisdom first shows the commitment of the government and authorities in restoring the natural beauty and well-being of Pakistan. It would also project our nation as a peace loving and environmentally conscious member of the world community. Hence, top authorities should be involved in declaring the spring season to include active plantation campaigns supported by the government. Since the upcoming spring season is in March, it should be declared now for August, alongside September, for heavy plantation so that this flows literally from the top leadership. The Prime Minister, for example, could possibly announce this on national and international media.
A top-level coordinating body should be formed under the Chairmanship of a high ranking official, which exclusively handles and monitors this on a regular basis as the implementation period is short. The other option is to entrust the whole responsibility to one Department that can supervise the implementation of activities from the top right down to the grass roots level, addressing all problems along the way.
The “National Day for Plantation” should be formally embedded as a part of our legislation. Following the declaration, a national policy should follow, the planning of which should start in parallel to the declaration. The national policy should be debated in the national assembly and adopted so that this becomes part and parcel of celebrating every season by plantation in the future. In this way, it can be ensured that this will not just be a one-time activity by the Government in power, rather a milestone to be remembered by the future generations.
The media should be involved at a large scale in bringing up the spirit of festivity for this day and for plantation drives in its vicinity. Hence, state media and information ministries should be involved to project plantation as the mainstay of celebration this spring plantation season. Special programs, songs, talk shows, dramas and spots should be made and aired so that people are not caught by surprise as to what the Government is trying to do. The cause should be promoted as one of national interest.
There should also be an awareness campaign for informing people on planting indigenous and local trees which should be initiated in parallel with the ‘bringing up the spirit of festivity’ step so that people are prepared before the season begins in February. Open spaces should be arranged by local governments so that people have a place to plant the saplings. In addition, these authorities should promote plantation of indigenous or local trees citing their importance as well as overall benefit to the planet as well as Pakistan. The Forest Department and the local governments should implement such programs and it is pertinent to mention that manpower under Government Departments should be fully involved. Of special help can be scouts, forest officials, horticulture departments and educators in this respect. To provide water for plantation, septic tanks should be installed for the purpose of recycling sewage water. New plants require relatively cleaner water that what is being used by city authorities now.
On the “National Day for Plantation”, all allied ministries, departments and institutions should plant at least 1,000 trees and sustain them. This will set an example for the public to follow. Ministers and Secretaries should be made directly responsible for this plantation. Forest and Local Government Departments should assist the people in plantation by setting up camps where plants can be distributed, and instructions given on sustaining trees. Pictorial print material in Urdu should be made and distributed with the plants.
The rest of the campaign should focus on involving people at the grass roots level. City Governments should be entrusted the responsibility of identifying places, supplying plants, and assisting people so that Pakistan is literally transformed to a greener cleaner nation. At an individual/family level, people should be encouraged to use water saved in the kitchen, for example, after washing edibles such as vegetables, fruits etc. or after 'wuddoo' (ablution) for watering plants.
The vexing question is: Why does this level of awareness and care for the environment not catch on at the majority scale? It is because we are simply not aware of its impact on our daily lives and this ignorance oftentimes allows us the luxury to take it for granted. Thus, most of are not involved towards the required care towards our natural gifts and hence the work of many caring individuals is diluted as a result. It should also be noted that taking care of our natural resources needs to be sustained across generations and the youth should lead the charge. It cannot happen overnight, however the spark of our youth towards such care will spread to our wider populace, otherwise we are bound to lose our existing green cover amongst many other such natural assets.
Climate change threatens our very existence, and we must change our ways, otherwise we face the worst types of impacts that are already happening across the globe. The threat of more intense natural disasters looms large amid such dangerous weather patterns. The 2022 floods as well as ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and continuous spells of droughts, floods and extreme weather events require us to act now to curb blind greed and injustice across the country to help the poor, young, disabled, and other vulnerable populations from these large-scale impacts.
Climate Adaptation via conservation practices
With climate change bringing disastrous events for many nations into death sentences like droughts and consequently slides into desertification, Pakistan is one nation on the receiving end of such unwelcome flux – which of course means disastrous consequences to its agrarian based economy. What is our response so far? Continued and unmitigated deforestation, unabated pollution of the skies and waterways, as well as no cultural, ethical, or sensible considerations for the proper management and conservation of water.
Unfortunately, as trite as the whole idea of conservation of water has been made out to be, the time is now that such a philosophy guides all efforts in solving our current and impending water shortages. Rainwater harvesting, which as the words imply, is a most elegant and practical means to hold and not let drain the great gift to life from the heavens above and the monsoon season floods can be used to tap this precious resource systematically. The foremost lack of water mismanagement, in the shape of 60% leakages through taps and pipelines is a common occurrence. There is a lot of talk about the recurring water crises in Pakistan. Have we ever thought that besides investing in mega projects like dams, for everyday purposes we can use existing water by avoiding water mismanagement and using the rainwater? Efforts, instead, are directed more towards “advanced high tech” solutions like filter and desalination plants – that these too lie in ruin and misuse is adding more towards misdirected efforts in solving the water crises.
We are also rapidly depleting our groundwater sources, which is an unreliable and diminishing resource. However, what about the purest form of water that pours so mercifully upon us each monsoon season? As usual, we let it drain into our gutters and sewers – an ungrateful inertia that worsens both our drought and flooding situations. Not only will such actions ultimately render our rivers dry, but the resulting desertification of our lands is imminent, should we stick to letting our gifts literally slip through our fingers. Pakistan turning into a Sahara type desert is a nightmare we should all work towards avoiding and saving rainwater will be a most effective means to stem the desertification path we are on.
Then there is the water quality issue, and rainwater can at least partially address this problem. Lahore, Karachi, Kasur, Hyderabad, Islamabad you name it, every city has worsening water quality! The public water supply systems are obsolete and defective both in terms of reliability as well as safety. The resulting environmental catastrophes have lingered in our memories as innumerable people including toddlers and children have either fallen sick or died since the inception of Pakistan.
In sum, water being the most basic human right can cost you your life, thanks to the extensive contamination. In the recent past, the notable and deadly Hyderabad water crisis was not an isolated case. The crisis was one of the many that have surfaced in recent years due to the lack of priority attached to safe water supply. Islamabad, our capital city, suffers from similar ailments found in other cities regarding both water quality and quantity. The city has regions and pockets of populations in slum areas that live without any supply of water. The poor inhabitants of these areas rely on underground water that is both capricious in terms of supply and dangerous in terms of quality.
Rainwater harvesting is the collection and storage of rain from roofs or from surface catchments for future use. The concept of capturing rainwater and storing it for later use is well documented from pre-Roman times and on all the major continents, although in industrialised countries, until recently, the practice had largely died away with the introduction of reliable mains-supplied water. With the ever-growing demand for water (and subsequent increases in cost), and the known adverse impacts this can have on local environments, the demand for rainwater recycling systems all over the world is on the increase. This is being done in many parts of the world, such as Britain, China, Brazil, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Germany and India, where there is enough rain for collection and conventional water resources either do not exist or are at risk of being over-used to supply a large population. The water is generally stored in rainwater tanks or directed into mechanisms which recharge ground water. Rainwater harvesting can provide lifeline water for human consumption, reduce water bills and the need to build reservoirs which may require the use of valuable land.
Subh-e-Nau Plantation Campaign 2022: Plant trees to save our planet
Geared towards involvement from community at all levels, plantation campaigns by SN are done with sustainability as well as placing indigenous plants as the only choice. All plantation activities will be done in the spirit of educating the participants, especially the youth emphasizing that their efforts are needed for the very survival of the planet as well as making Pakistan an evergreen nation in the process. Indigenous tree species should form the key components of any plantation drive, not just this coming February and there are good scientific and health reasons for doing so. As is unanimously voiced by experts, this may take time; however, is the only way to ensure a long-term stability of our environment. Plantation activities will be lobbied to occur alongside the need for a National Day for Plantation, as this will prevent further deforestation of our country. Advocacy campaigns in this regard will be presented to authorities, so that they can prevent mindless extraction of community-based forests.
Which species for reforestation purposes?
In Karachi and Baluchistan, what are commonly known as wilayati keeker (Mesquite) and beli were planted for the very reason that they grew fast, but this has restricted or even wiped out other indigenous trees and shrubs like Acacia senegal – local name Khor, Acacia nilotica – local name Kikar or Bhabar, Prosopis cineraria – local name kandi or jandi. These species must be replanted, and slow replacement of exotics must happen alongside. The Northern forests in the earthquake affected areas mostly consist of Cheer (Long Needle Pine), Fir, Deodar and Kail (Blue Pine) varieties which should form the basis of reforestation efforts in the affected areas.
In the case of Islamabad, there are many beautiful trees in the area that are naturally part of the landscape, e.g., Shirin. Similarly, Sumbul trees should be encouraged as they also have economic value if the seeds are harvested as they are used to fill pillows. CDA should encourage harvesting of seeds of this tree as well. Banyan tree or Bur as is commonly known was planted for centuries. Sher Shah Suri planted these trees at regular intervals on the GT Road in sets of three with water ponds for horses. People also used to rest under these. Peepal is also a very good native tree for the purpose.
Further recommendations are Pine – local name Cheer, Sukh Chain, and Kachnar. Local Mulberry that produces black colored fruit is a very good choice, since the fruit has medicinal qualities of healing sore throats and infections.
Our country needs to rejuvenate itself every coming plantation season and involving our youth will ensure that the present-day climate crises address does not only happen today, but also in the coming days.
Join our Plantation Campaign 2022!