Climate Change in Pakistan: Innovation in the Absence of Government Support

May 22nd, 2014 | By | Category: Livelihood, Pakistan

A farmer uses a donkey to transport newly harvested wheat grains at a field in Attcak, in PunjabThe Guardian: “There is nothing left here. We don’t have electricity, we don’t have gas, we have an acute shortage of water, so what is left for us?”

This is how a woman in Lahore, Pakistan, expressed her frustration to researchers for Climate Asia, the largest study in Asia on people’s perceptions of changes in climate.

Pakistan stood out from the other countries included in the study – India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam and China – because of this strong sense of despair. It was the only country of all seven in which more people thought life had become worse in the past five years, both in rural areas and big cities.

Climate Asia, which surveyed more than 4,000 people across the country, found that lack of electricity, not having enough food and not having enough clean water were people’s biggest worries. High inflation was also mentioned as putting a lot of pressure on their lives.

And these worries were aggravated by perceived changes in climate and the environment, namely rising temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, shifts in seasons and saline water intrusion, which people said affected agricultural productivity and access to water. People in Pakistan were noticing these changes over the years despite only a quarter of respondents saying they had heard the term “climate change” before, and despite 15% saying that they had heard the term but did not know what it meant.

In more than any other country surveyed in the region, people in Pakistan thought these changes in weather and in availability of water, food, electricity and fuel, were currently having a high impact on their lives, their lifestyles and health.

Pakistan also stood out for the low confidence people had in national, provincial and local governments taking the necessary actions to help them respond to changes in water, food, energy supply or extreme weather events. More than 70% of people surveyed said that they had little or no confidence in government to help them on these issues.

People in Pakistan had more confidence in their neighbourhoods than in any institution. “The floods have taught us that we need to solve our own problems,” one community leader in Badin told us.

Moreover, despite the feeling of despair, people in Pakistan who were responding in one way or another to these challenges were taking a broader range of actions than those surveyed in the other countries, from rotating crops and using renewable energy, to storm-proofing their homes.

But co-operation is not always easy. We carried out community assessments which provided a useful insight on how people worked together to improve their resilience. In the district of Rajanpur (Punjab), we observed three different responses to the challenges, some of which were more successful than others.

One small farming settlement had decided to join forces to overcome the impact of recurrent floods and, despite low financial resources, helped each other in elevating homes to protect families and livestock. Another benefited from resources and training provided by a local non-governmental organisation, which helped them to organise themselves, speeding up post-flood recovery. This settlement displayed a strong sense of confidence in their ability to respond to emergencies such as recurring floods.

However, unlike these two communities, a third group was struggling to work together and felt that power relations which allowed certain farmers to secure more water or favourable crop prices, coupled with increased lack of water and infrastructure, were eroding any sense of community.

One of the most important findings – for Pakistan and the other six countries – was that when people are well informed, they are better able to cope with changing weather.

We found that people were relying on others to learn and share information at the community level, and those who felt well informed were also more likely to be rotating and diversifying crops, saving water and making adjustments to their houses – even those with little money.

With high levels of TV viewership and rising mobile phone use in Pakistan, there are opportunities to provide people across the country with information on coping with resource shortages and seasonal changes on a much bigger scale.

Communication and media can not only provide information at critical times such as SMS alerts during extreme weather, but also help people hold their institutions and leaders to account through discussion shows, and share examples of best practice using, for example, dramas or reality TV challenges.

The Climate Asia findings for Pakistan are at once some of the most worrying and inspiring to emerge. In the absence of government support, some communities are innovating and working together to tackle the threats they face. These responses cover a wide range of actions, such as changing cropping patterns, creating emergency shelters and safe spaces for livestock and storing seeds, trying alternative sources of income or creating community citizen boards to manage publicly funded schemes. If those ideas could be shared on a wider scale, it could go a long way to support some of Asia’s most vulnerable communities.

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Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

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