Since Pakistan came into being, it has faced several crises and has been able to triumph most challenges successfully. At present, a looming threat to our country is posed by climate change. As the adverse effects of climate change persist to grow, shifting weather patterns threaten food production in Pakistan and rising sea level in the south has increased the risk of catastrophic flooding.
According to an annual report published in DAWN, temperature is rising at an average of 1 degree per annum since 1990 and precipitation is decreasing by 10 to 15 % in the coastal belt. Sea levels are anticipated to rise as a consequence of glacial melting that can cause damage to coastal landscape. Pakistan’s contribution to world’s greenhouse gases is less than 1 percent and yet it is among the world’s most vulnerable areas to the mounting impacts of climate change.
If we talk about climate change and gender, then we cannot ignore the fact that climate change impacts women and men in distinct ways due to their different roles with respect to use of natural resources, in particular forest and water.
The Global Climate Risk Index developed by Germanwatch rates Pakistan among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change. Pakistan’s population is estimated to increase by 100 million people around 2050 which is bound to exert more pressure on its existing resources. Additionally, new and ambitious economic development plans could only mean that the country’s carbon dioxide emissions would accelerate by 300 percent over the next 15 years.
The country's government has vowed to reduce harmful emissions by 2030, as required by nations that are signatory to the Paris Climate Accord, but does not mention how it will achieve this goal given its development expectations.
If a country’s temperature rises consistently, it is likely to encounter extreme climate conditions over time. Over the last 20 years, Pakistan has fallen prey to over 130 climatic disasters including floods, droughts and heat waves. Despite recurring warnings, the nation has not equipped itself well to combat the adverse impacts of climate change. Diminishing water supplies, because of erratic and fewer rains is also problematic for the country as it affects productivity across all sectors. Achieving food security with an ever growing population will be another challenge as glacial melting and higher water vaporization rates caused by increasing temperatures will result in reduced irrigation and yield of crops such as wheat and rice.
Women in Pakistan are among the most vulnerable to the deleterious effects of climate change, especially in rural areas. Nevertheless, women play a pivotal role in getting to the solutions of this problem. If we talk about climate change and gender, then we cannot ignore the fact that climate change impacts women and men in distinct ways due to their different roles with respect to use of natural resources, in particular forest and water.
Women in Pakistan like women of the other countries take on roles such as collecting water for drinking, cooking, washing, hygiene and raising livestock. On the contrary, men utilize water for irrigation, livestock, farming and industrial purposes. This gender driven distribution of labor of women and men in our societies indicates that they have varied needs and priorities as far as water utilization is considered. This information is quite important in the context of climate change.
This gender driven distribution of labor of women and men in our societies indicates that they have varied needs and priorities as far as water utilization is considered. This information is quite important in the context of climate change.
For example, in areas affected by desertification, time taken by women for water collection will increase because they will have to commute to greater distances to search for water. This is the time that could be utilized in progressive ways such as in schools, educating and contributing in economic and public activities. Traveling for longer periods of time can cause different health issues for women. Women have been underrepresented in the decision-making on climate change and global warming. This hampers their capacity to participate and implement initiatives for climate adaptation to fight the effects of quickly changing climate patterns.
There is dire need that policy and, decision-makers of our country recognize and make sure that women are equally involved in planning and decision-making processes aimed at strengthening climate resilience of the country. Furthermore, women and gender specialists should play an effective role in collaboration with pertinent government departments to ensure that they are well-versed with gendered dimensions of climate-prone sectors like agriculture, health, education and water.
Climate change and associated challenges need to be taken more seriously and addressed as priority issues for sustenance of our country and to ease its way on road to sustainability and climate resilience. HH
The writer is an Environmental Scientist, currently working as a research assistant at Climate Change, Alternate Energy and Water Resources Institute, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.
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