Articles, Development Sector

Climate change is not a problem for another generation, Not anymore

Globally Climate Change is happening and it is badly affecting the human life and health. Pakistan being a developing country has a poor healthcareinfrastructure andwhich leads to many social disparities. Health is one of the biggest barriers to development in Pakistanbut as the Climate Change unfolds itself, the burden has doubled due to unexpected climatic events. Since the Climate Change is not just a problem of future generations, the hospitals lacking health facilities, financial resources and infrastructure need rapid capacity improvements.

As predicted by the scientists the climate induced events are becoming severe every year. People living in Tharparker are facing drought for the third consecutive year. This district of Pakistan, which is also adjacent to Rajastan and Gujrat of India, has a population of 1.5 million, consisting of around 2300 villages. As the drought continues year after year the women and children are suffering the most.

According to a report released by the provincial government about the drought situation in Thar shows that, 311 children under five years of age died between the years 2013 and 2014.The report also shows that the main causes of death of the children were birth asphyxia, pre-term, low birth weight, respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia. According to latest reports of the year 2015, the death toll has reached up to 500 infant deaths. While most of the families cannot find the water, malnutrition and hunger are widespread with in the district. Women not only have to look after the children and house chores, they are also forced to fill a labour gap caused by migration of men to urban areas in search of jobs.

The Thardesert is one of Pakistan’s poorest areas and it has seen an alarming number of children suffering pneumonia or diarrhoea due to a treacherouscombination of drought, poverty and poor health infrastructure. The predictions of harder times ahead have been a wakeup call for local communities and policymakers alike that building resilience is the only defense against a rising death toll.

Another unexpected event occurred in the form of mini cyclone in Peshawar this year. Intense rain and strong winds swayed the city of Peshawar and adjacent districts, causing dozens of roofs and walls to collapse and blocking many roads. According to the officials, the injured included nearly 100 children, while farmers also suffered badly as their standing crops were ruined.”At least 44 people have been killed and 202 wounded. The storm followed by heavy rain and hailstorm has severely damaged wheat crops and orchards,” said Provincial Information Minister MushtaqGhani.

Another extreme event struck Pakistan in the form of severe rains which began in mid-July this year,causing havoc in many parts. Authorities estimated that the floods had affected 300,000 people in just two weeks as the floods hit the northern city of Chitral and the eastern Punjab province. According to authorities, the severe weather affected 422 villages in Punjab and as many as 350 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Every year, Pakistan is hit by severe weather patterns, which have taken hundreds of lives and wiped out millions of acres of agricultural lands in recent years, harming the heavily agrarian economy.While some local people say the government has failed to tackle the problem, the experts have warned that Climate Change could make the annual floods worse. Just before these recent flooding in Pakistan, over 1200 people died due to week long heat wave in Karachi. During the heat wave period when the temperatures reached about 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit),the weakest and the most vulnerable were the worst hit, among them was a large number of elderly people. Perhaps it was the cumulative effect of prolonged electricity shortages, chronic water shortages, pollution and Climate Change which resulted in so many deaths.

It’s high time that we begin viewing unexpected natural events specially heat waves as climate induced disasters and make rapid structural changes to mitigate the effects. Floods and droughts are common in Pakistan however the severe heat wave caught the experts and government officials unaware. Good planning at national and provincial levels with preventive actions can reduce mortalities and reduce the damage. For example, in Ahmedabad (India), the south Asia’s first heat Health Plan has been developed and well implemented.The successful implementation of the heat health management plan, developed by LEAD Pakistan and Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), controlled the loss of life in the city to seven, as compared to 1,300 in a similar heat wave incident in 2010.

Ahmedabad’s Heat Health Project has been recognised internationally for its success and was named as one of the top 20 projects at the Sendai Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in early 2015. This project was also significantlyvalued in South Asian Cities Summit in New Delhi in May 2015, attended by officials from local governments and other stakeholders from different South Asian countries.

The project provides steps to mitigate the impacts on health by identifying high risk cities and localities and briskly implementing a low cost high return plan. These include; increasing access to drinking water and shades to outdoor workers, developing building codes that are more heat-resilient and provision of transport system that enables people to avoid heat stress during frequent power outages that multiplies heat effect. In Ahmedabad, these small steps included launching awareness campaigns through billboards, handouts and other forms of communication with basic information of heat preparedness; installation of over 1,100 drinking water stations; keeping open all gardens; capacity building of medical staff with respect to heat affected conditions and their solutions; and installation of early warning system which help people and government departments to get prepared in advance. The government of Pakistan is in touch with LEAD and jointly conducted a seminar for knowledge sharing with GOP officials so that similar initiatives can be planned for other heat vulnerable cities to avoid the disaster in the making and consequent loss of human lives.

The most important thing, is that the upcoming COP21 and occurrence of such unpredictable and severe events has created awareness and public demand in Pakistan. The much ignored health sector need reforms in the face of changing climate. The discussions have been initiated at different levels including the federal and provincial and local government and it has been noticed that despite the fact that Pakistan relies on foreign funding to deal with the impacts of Climate Change the solution seems to be a community based planning using a participatory approach giving special encouragement to women.

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