Monday, November 8, 2010

What Climate Change is in the eyes of flood survivors in Pakistan

Last year when I was in Australia, attending Al Gore’ training on climate change, I never thought by that time how much visible and catastrophic can be the impacts of climate change in our own lives. Living fortunately in one of the greenest areas of Pakistan- Mansehra, I had been observing how the time kept on changing our local environment. I observed gradual changes such as decreasing forest cover over the mountains, late start of winter and hot summers just like in the western part of the country. Often these changes were long term which others would have also felt but never realize its cause if not known to the science of climate change.

And then we witnessed the massive flooding which changed everything in Pakistan. Last year, I learned from The Climate Project training that climate change will cause more disasters on our planet, unexpected in its occurrence, horrible in its magnitude and devastating in its impact on human lives and economy. This is all what we witnessed in the aftermath of Pakistan flood this July-August 2010. Although the flood water has gone (Sindh province still inundated with flood water), the catastrophe has left awful impacts on the lives of survivors. People have lost their livelihood’ means and worried about the future of their families and children. Nobody other than the climate affectees can well share how climate change does really mean and this is what I heard last month from number of flood affectees living in the worst affected villages of KPK province.

I had only heard the name of flood but due to the heavy rains this time we have seen such a destructive flood which has taken everything away from us. People says we have not seen a flood like this during the last 130 years, said a 70 years old Mrs. Basri from district Charssada. She further shared; “my two sons have lost their houses. I can see the diseases have increased now. Prices have increased. Our children are not able to continue their education. My children who were working on daily wages on the farms of others are no more able to work due to the destruction of agriculture lands”.

One of the most devastating impacts of the flooding is the survivors’ vulnerability in terms of difficulties in restoring their livelihoods. I met with few farmers who were able to evacuate their family’ members but have lost their precious fertile land and crops, being the main source of their earning. Ehsan Ullah, one of the farmer from the Charssada district shared his story; I am a tenant and I have to pay Rs. 7,000/- to the landowner against the 4 canal (half acre) of crop land. We have to pay this money to the landowner either we produce less or more. This year when we had already paid the money to the landowner, the flood has swept away all the crops and now I have nothing in my hand. He further added, “Every year, we face flooding up to 2-3 feet only every summer and during the monsoon season, but it only affected our lands, but this time it was just too much. Flood water came up to 13 feet in our village. It not only destroyed our lands but also destroyed our houses and everything we had in our houses”

Pakistan, already ambushed into the challenges of insecurity and economic crisis, has now gone further back in the race of economic prosperity in the aftermath of massive flooding. Increasing population and now the flood devastation has further limited the economic growth. Even before the flood devastation, climate change had started affecting crops productivity in most of the country rural areas. One of the flood survivor farmers, Siraj from district Nowshera shared his story with me; it is becoming harder to grow and maintain crops production because every year we are flooded during the monsoon from the River Kabul. Due to water logging and salinity, it is becoming harder every year to grow. From 1970s to 2004, villagers used to send 35-40 trucks of tomato only being produced in our lands and earning about 7 million rupees, but from the last 5-6 years, our crops production has reduced and people are now turning toward other labor work. Siraj further added how unexpected the flood was; we were not expecting flood this year as the usual flooding time had already gone, but then the massive flood came and we were not ready for this devastation with such a big magnitude. It damaged everything, our lives, our homes, our belongings and now we are helpless. We have almost lost 250 acres of fertile land due to this unexpected flood and massive rainfall this year.

There are lots of such real stories that someone can hear from flood survivors in Pakistan, quite enough to realize and understand what climate change is in REAL. We all, however need to go beyond this realization. This is the time to act, especially when the world leadership will be meeting in Cancun in few days, to reach a binding agreement and make real efforts to bring down the carbon emission to the desired level. Failure of Cancun would only mean more disasters and more flooding like of Pakistan.

Photo credit: Muhammad Ali, Senior Communication Officer- WV Pakistan

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