Pakistan on Frontline of Two Wars, says Cancún Delegation

Posted on 08 December 2010 by admin

Pakistan's Environment Minister Hameedullah Jan Afridi speaks to an IPS reporter in Cancún. Credit: Keya Acharya/TerraViva

By Keya Acharya

CANCÚN, Mexico, Dec 7, 2010 (IPS/TerraViva) – On the sidelines of the ministerial deliberations at Cancún underway Tuesday, a panel of scientists, climate policy experts and politicians outlined the devastating impacts of the recent floods in northwest Pakistan that destroyed 18 million homes, affecting 20 million people and costing the country five percent of its GDP.

Pakistan emits less than 0.05 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, but is increasingly vulnerable to climate catastrophes.

Former environment minister Malik Amin Aslam says the country’s geo-physical features are the main cause of vulnerability, with its close proximity to the glacial melt zone of South Asia, and featuring mountains at 8,000 km above sea level, down to the plains at sea level within a span of a mere 1,000 km.

Dr. Qamar uz Zaman Chaudry, vice president of the World Meteorological Organisation, said 2010 saw very unusual and extreme climate events in Pakistan and the region, with cyclones, droughts and floods ranging from Russia right across the regional belt.

Chaudry says Pakistan’s flood areas received over 300 mm of rain in one day alone, causing havoc.

“Pakistan is in the throes of a climate catastrophe,” said Aslam, “and now in the frontline against two wars, one on terrorism and the other on combating climate change.”

Unprecedented heavy monsoons in July destroyed infrastructure, livelihoods and property, killing 2,000 people and rendering millions destitute.

Aslam fears that the hopelessness and grief that the catastrophe has caused will increase the numbers of people drawn to terrorist groups, already a serious problem both in Pakistan and in areas of India as well.

In response to a question by TerraViva regarding whether a joint strategy for countering climate change in the region could prove both a necessity, given the urgency of the situation, and a countermeasure to terrorism as well, Minister of Environment Hameedullah Jan Afridi said that a joint climate change strategy was already signed under SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation).

“I think we have no other choice but to act together at regional level,” said Afridi.

India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, speaking at a different forum at the talks in Cancún Tuesday, said India was launching a joint strategy with neighbouring Bangladesh on climate change to control the Sunderban mangrove region. India, Nepal and China already have a trilateral agreement for restoration of Mount Kailash in Tibet, of sacred importance to both Buddhists and Hindus.

“India is also looking at a regional programme on glaciology to understand Himalayan glacial melt with Nepal and Bhutan. Perhaps, in a future point of time, with Pakistan as well,” Ramesh said.

Pakistan has no national policy on climate change – its draft strategy still needs to get past several concerned departments. A senior Pakistani journalist, Rina Saeed, was worried that the time taken for the draft to become a legal reality would allow further disasters to happen.

Pakistan’s ambassador to Germany, Shahid Kamal, highlighted the indifference of international donor organisations to come to Pakistan’s aid.

“We have found out that we need to mobilise resistance to climate catastrophes on our own. When you have a natural disaster of this magnitude and appeal to the international community is not forthcoming, what do you do?” he asked in frustration.

Ambassador Kamal wanted the Cancún conference, especially poorer delegations, to reflect on “donor fatigue” and the need to have this issue addressed.

Minister Afridi told TerraViva that Pakistan is “trying hard” to get developed countries to get serious on their commitments, both on their financial obligations and emissions control.

“We remain committed to the G77 (Group of 77 developing nations) on its issues,” he said.

The G77 is the largest intergovernmental organisation of developing states in the U.N. , now increased to 130 nations, that use this forum to articulate and enhance their joint negotiating capabilities on all major international issues that are within their common interests, and promote South-South cooperation.

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