Searchlight SA: Climate change causes severe damage to the most socio-economically exposed communities. South Asia is home to almost 40% of the worlds poorest, and therefore faces a double conundrum. Countries in the region must not only support their populations from negotiating the swift socio-economic changes that have come to characterize their economies, but must also make concerted efforts towards mitigating the various additional risks that climate change vulnerability entails.
In the context of rapid South Asian urbanization, climate change and poverty are increasingly demonstrating a close causal affiliation. Asian cities are estimated to contribute around 80% of the region’s GDP drawing more people to them in search of livelihoods. The Asian Development Bank reports that by 2050, 52.4% of South Asians are expected to live in cities. The absolute number of people living in South Asian cities is projected to be among the highest in Asia, growing from about 549 million people in 2010 to 875 million in 2030. This constitutes 38% of the expected increase in the urban population in Asia and 23% of the expected urban population increase in the world in the next 20 years While estimates on the proportion of the urban poor in these cities are absent, they appear to be high, given that almost 190.7 million people, or 35% of those living in South Asian cities, inhabit slums.
Slums and other marginal areas in cities tend to be highly exposed to climate-related risks, and urban services such as water and food supplies, sanitation and electricity come under increasing strain due to floods, droughts, heat waves and rising sea-levels. Governments in the region have been concerned about the adverse impacts of climate change, and are seeking ways to address them. Recently, the governments in Pakistan and Nepal initiated policies around climate change in a bid to accelerate efforts to mitigate adverse climate impact.
Climate Change and South Asia
In the last decade, poor communities South Asia have had to pay immense costs due to their exposure to climate change related disasters. According to the Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index, Pakistan, ranked amongst the ‘most affected countries in 2011’, showed an average weighted ranking in the index at a high 10.50%. Bangladesh fared five times worse at 50.83% and Nepal at 38%. Bangladesh, however recorded a lower loss per unit of GDP ratio at 0.01% compared to Pakistan and Nepal, for which the figures stood at 1.19% and 0.03%, respectively. The loss of lives in Pakistan was the highest in 2011 (due to the massive floods that ravaged the Sindh region that year), with the death toll standing at 500; Nepal lost 191 lives in 2011 while that for Bangladesh stood at 160. The report adds that in the decade from 2000 to 2010, climate change caused Pakistan to experience the worst floods in its history and see a cumulative death toll of as many as 3000 people. It is estimated that nearly 20 million Pakistanis were displaced by the 2010 floods, and continue to bear the socio-economic costs of climate change exposure. Even as 600 million Pakistanis were stranded without homes, the region was concomitantly hit by a food security crisis. With harvests being destroyed as well as transport and warehousing facilities impacted, the price of essentials such as rice, flour, fruit and vegetables surged. The most impacted by these developments were the urban poor that represented 9 million people, or as much as one fifth of the country’s total population.
Nepal too, has experienced the negative impacts of climate change and rising global temperatures. The report states that in 2011, the Himalayan nation lost 282 lives to glacial floods. The 4th Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that serious and recurrent floods hit the region from 2002 to 2004, and that a decrease in precipitation in the region has caused acute water shortage. The country also faces a challenge in domestic electrification. The World Energy Outlook’s Energy Development Index, which measures household electricity provision, ranked Nepal near the bottom of countries evaluated in 2012. With grid extension to the country’s hilly and mountainous areas being prohibitively expensive, renewable, off-grid energy solutions are the only realistic way to provide energy in the most remotely accessed parts of the country. The Nepalese leadership too has demonstrated a strong inclination towards promoting the use and access of renewable energy technologies (RETs). The Rural Energy Development Program, run between 2009 and 2011 in the country, is a case in point. The program connected over 50,000 households to micro hydropower installations, installed around 15,000 improved cooking stoves and 3,200 solar home heating systems.
Recent Policy Initiatives in the Region
With rapid urbanization, cities in the region already struggle to provide for its poorest communities in terms of living spaces, food and other essential amenities. Disasters further exacerbate these conditions. Climate related risks, though are not easily identifiable to a pointed source. Policies aimed towards addressing the problems therefore face the challenge of design precision – they must address all the closely knit multifarious factors.
In February 2013, the Governments in Pakistan and Nepal initiated policies to address challenges posed by climate change. The Pakistan Tribune reported the drafting of the country’s first ever climate change policy, developed in partnership with the United Nations Development Program. Around the same time, the government of Nepal endorsed the extension of the Renewable Energy Grants Policy, which provides a 40% subsidy to rural households that chose to install renewable energy technologies, to urban centres in the country. While Pakistan’s policy is more overarching and indicative with 120 interventions to slow down the impact of global warming, Nepal’s policy is more specific in promoting use of renewable energy. Both, however, face questions regarding implementation and time-frames.
Pakistan’s Climate Change Policy enlists five measures that could be taken to address ‘the problems of poor communities in Pakistan’s urban areas in the context for climate change’.The five measures include: a) integrate the poverty-climate nexus into economic policies and plans; b) Ensure the implementation and expansion of national population planning strategies and programs, as the population explosion is likely to significantly exacerbate the impact of climate change; c) Enhance general awareness of the problems of unchecked population growth and the demands it places on natural resources; d) Strengthen community level climate change adaptation measures to prepare communities for enhanced and efficient natural resources management; and e) Ensure that the development process is sustainable and caters to the needs of the poor.
Nepal’s February 2013 policy is more focused on energy security. It extends the government’ existing rural subsidy awarded to households that used renewable energy technologies to urban areas as well. The new policy funds technologies sourced from hydropower, solar, biogas (a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced by fermenting organic matter) and – for the first time – wind. The policy also seeks to use biomass, a traditional energy source, more efficiently. According to reports, under the policy, the Nepalese government will bear 40% of the total installation costs, an additional 40% of the cost would be made available through non-collateralized loans awarded by banks and financial institutions. The consumer would only have to bear the remaining 20% of the cost. The absolute cost of renewable energy however will determine its affordability to the urban poor.
The impact of these policies on the urban poor populations remains unclear. Pakistan’s draft policy does not clearly outline climate adaptation strategies that the urban poor could adopt. The recommendations are also silent on details such as budgeting, timelines for roll out-out, and implementation mechanisms. While the introduction of the policy is laudable, there are some immediate questions to identify specificfocus areas for interventions. Given that Pakistan is the most urbanized country in South Asia, climate policy will have to place bolstering the capacity of the urban poor to deal with climate change at a priority.
Nepal’s policy evoked similar reactions. Although Nepal’s policy is more specific, experts say that there is an additional need for legislation to further reinforce and regularize RET usage, guarantee financing and also create institutional mechanisms to sell surplus energy to the national grid. Capacity development, consumer awareness drives and streamlined quality management services are also pivotal logistical concerns imperative to the success of the policy.
South Asia currently finds itself strategically placed at the very centre of a transforming global climate change dialogue. With nearly half of the worlds’ top 20 mega-cities — those with populations of 10 million or more in the region, these countries have the potential to be the pioneers in adoption of climate change solutions. The most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are the urban poor– a sizeable number, who occupy marginal areas exposed to climate and environmental hazards. In the face of ever increasing risks through climate-caused disasters, city plans need to be climate proof and protect their most vulnerable sections, and bolster their capacities to adapt.
Undoubtedly, the governments of Pakistan and Nepal have begun to take concerted action towards mitigating the impacts of climate change. Significantly, both countries have a plethora of successfully run small scale projects that locally address climate adaptation issues at the community level. The leadership would do well to capitalize on the technological and knowledge innovations produced in their countries and ensure the achievement of a sustained beneficial impact by reforming the larger institutional systems of governance responsible for their implementation.
- Tags: climate change, community level climate change, government policy, Nepal, Pakistan, urbanization
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