Melting glaciers escalating Socio-economic vulnerability in Pakistan

Pakistan is listed among the top ten most vulnerable climate change countries in the Global Climate Risk Index. Multiple factors involve behind climate change and high rising temperature resulted melting of the glaciers in the Northern areas of Pakistan (especially Himalayan glaciers) increasing frequency of climate relating disasters

According to Pakistan metrological department (PMD) Pakistan has more than 7000 glaciers in the Karakoram, Himalayan and Hindu Kush ranges. These glaciers consider one of major recharging source of the historical Indus river system. The verifiable data gathered over the 40 years by PMD confirm the visible signs of melting around 120-30 glaciers caused by climate change. Though negative impacts of climate change affects beyond any discrimination however socio-economic, political and institutional capacity intensify risk of climate change on underdeveloped countries and vulnerable segment.

In northern regions of Pakistan the Himalayan glaciers are melting gradually and potential risk is that these melting glaciers are gathered in natural lakes. There are 3000 glacial lakes and 33 out of them are disastrous in nature. The threat level for the local communities has been increased as the glaciers melt the natural lakes overflow and flesh flood rapidly rushing into the villages adjacent to them. We have often observed that vulnerable population close to Karakoram, Himalayan and Hindu Kush displaced from homes to temporary shelters or host families to other villages and disconnected from cities for long time.

During the flesh floods the vulnerable communities who already face weather hardships stuck between cold mountains, retreating waters, damaged road communication and bridges that make difficult for relief agencies and humanitarian worker to rescue affected people and provide them relief assistance timely. Large number of people living in lower side villages lost their homes, household assets and livelihood sources which ultimately weakened capacity to coup up with disaster adversities.

Once affected people left no choice but to migrate nearby cities for survival, it builds immense pressure on job market for skilled and non- skilled labor because these citifies already facilitate people beyond their capacity. Flesh flood affects village-based small income generating activities of communities as well especially in tour season that only opens for 4 to 5 months, the people earn sufficient amount to survive in coming harsh winter season in which social and economic activities almost restricted.

Environment and PMD experts are of the opinion that disasters caused by glacier outbursts in northern regions will not stop and will continue in the future because there are so many glaciers at risk of bursting. The uninterrupted deforestation and Global climate change have led to increase temperatures in the region causing glaciers to melt. According to PMD over the past 80 years, the average temperature in Gilgit-Baltistan has increased by 1.4 degrees Celsius (2.5F) compared to a rise of 0.6 degree Celsius (1F) in the lower-lying regions of Sindh, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa of Pakistan.

The simple reason behind the massive deforestation is indifferent attitude of government and relevant departments towards forests protection and failure to control timber mafia though we need to realize that conserving forests is essential to absorb carbon emissions and address climate change and negative impacts. The essential thing would be to grow more forests to mitigate the effects of global warming on glaciers and address root causes of socio-economic vulnerability.

It has been positively noted that Pakistan giving more attention to climate change and resilience in policy making and actions. Federal and provincial governments have launched a mega campaign to grow the forest and develop new green belts to balance the rapid increase in temperatures in these mountains and other hard weather regions of country.

There is also need to develop integrated national strategy to raise mass awareness on correlation of climate change, socio-economic vulnerability of underserved communities and importance of forestation to address them.