It is really strange and unfortunate when someone ask about climate change to those actually suffering from its adverse impact and the answer he gets is, NO, I don’t know what is it.
This was the situation which our assessment team of WV Pakistan faced during the detailed need assessment in Nathiagali. Everyone in Pakistan knows about Nathiagali, being one of the most famous tourist resorts in the country. Every year thousands of tourists from all around the country, including from abroad, visit this heaven on earth, especially in the month of June, July and August to enjoy cool pleasant weather when the entire country is too hot. People coming to this area think this is one of the developed areas in northern parts of Pakistan. However, this is not the reality.
People get this perception of developed Nathiagali after travelling over just a kilometer road surrounded by number of hotels, beautiful shops and some expensively built houses. However, if someone goes in down streams, he/she would quickly start observing how difficulties the life is. Can someone imagine while walking on that one kilometer beautiful road, there are families living downstream who have to walk some time more than two hours to fetch water for drinking? It’s a snow bound and very hard terrain and I still remember when few years back, this areas was totally cut off from rest of the country for more than three weeks due to heavy snowfall and there become severe food shortage for families living in this area.
Nathiagali constitute major forests reserves of existing 4.7% forests of Pakistan. Tourism, agriculture and livestock are the major sources of livelihoods in this area. However, our assessment team observed that one of main poverty reasons is the impacts of climate change which these people are totally unaware of. While asking about the term climate change, the answer was simply NO, however when went into deep discussion, there were lot of information and responses from local communities, making it very clear how climate change is impacting these people and their livelihoods.
Some of the direct responses from communities show that changing weather patterns and uncertain rainfall has significantly impacted agriculture sector and reduced crops productively of this area. People have now become heavily dependent on external markets and spend extra money for purchase of food items for daily use. Assessment result shows that about 67% of the households from this area earn less than the actual expenditure per month. This further makes the current insecure food situation more volatile for poor families. Assessment team analyzed that low food production, dependency on external markets and poverty has significantly impacted nutrition status, particularly of little children and women. About 75% households are dependent on spring water without protection of its sources. Both the degrading water sources and contamination lead to water born diseases, especially among children. Assessment result also showed that insufficient water is limiting use of water for required personal hygiene and other uses at household level.
Nathiagali is rich for thick forest reserves in Pakistan, however despite of government’ ban on use of reserve forests for fuel or other uses, our team find that illegal cutting is widespread and the reason behind deforestation is community dependency on forest for fuel, houses construction and protecting themselves from the harsh winter. Communities shared that degrading forest cover is a big risk for natural habitat. Communities also shared that they are observing sharp decline in number of wild species like leopards, monkeys and seasonal birds.
It is vital that government and specially ministry of environment give special attention to Nathiagali and protect this area from degrading natural resources and vanishing bio-diversity. It is so obvious that tourism’ benefits in this area are very limited to local communities. Government should develop this entire area in a true sense with number of available options like eco-tourism, sustainable management of natural resources and linking environment conservation with income generation for poor families.