Climate change is no longer an academic theoretical issue but is looking straight into our eyes with its snowballing impact on the planet inhabited by the human beings. Its emerging impact is global with different degree for different parts of the world but uniformly affects the lives of mankind. Instead of falling in the trap of balm game of who did how much will render it the ‘tragedy of the common. It is better to accept responsibilities and come up with matching efforts to mitigate its severity. It is a time of introspection, confession and action before it is too late.
It is a fact that the Mother Nature did not turn hostile but had been provoked by the human being out of greed and mismanagement.
It is true that the developed world, particularly the North, cannot be absolved from its responsibility of accelerating the climate change phenomenon. The excessive use of fossil energy, a requirement for its industrialization drive especially for lost two centuries is being held responsible for emitting trillions of tones carbon or CO2.
But industrialization is one aspect of anthropogenic activities that affect the climate. If the North contributed through industrialization and excessive use of the fossil energy, the South or third world can also be blamed for uncontrolled human population that is causing environmental degradation with cyclic affects for the climate change.
Moreover, the South employs the technologies and fossil energy source, particularly coal, which the North is abandoning or replacing. In addition, the North almost succeeded to control its population growth.
Besides, this global debate and approach to the issue, it is also plausible to look into the causes triggered by local factors. As a native of Swat, I can take it as a sample unit to assess the change and its causes through a layman’s lens. Swat Valley is situated in the trans-Himalaya climate system that provides the crucial environmental services to the down plains.
The empirical evidence also demonstrates the gradual rising in temperature since the last four decades but exacerbated and is obvious for the every one for last one decade. To illustrate the situation from common man’s point of view, apple orchards almost vanished in Swat Valley. The process of replacing apple orchards from lower parts of the valley began in early 1990s, and reached to the upper Valley now. The common explanation by the growers is the gradual reduction in productivity and increasing plant diseases but one of the scientific reasons was the gradual temperature warming. The apples orchards were replaced by peaches which are more pesticide intensive than apples and causing further environmental issues.
Though erratic dry spills and lay man observations may not form the basis for thorough scientific analysis but consistency in the phenomenal change does provide for drawing inferences. Since last year’s September, the valley received less rain than usual that causes a drought like situation. Apart from pushing the underground water table down, the perennial water sources particularly springs also went dry. The alarming experience for the locals was the drying up of springs in the main valley and in the contiguous parts of Shangla that used to be stuff with snow in the month of January.
For last one decade the Swat Valley receives less snow fall as compare to the previous decade/s. And this year is the worst as the months of December and January received very less rain and thus less snow on the alpine pastures and peaks.
The snow fall in December and January is crucial for replenishing the glaciers and stoking the alpine pastures that feed the Swat River. If this pattern continues for another decade, it can substantially reduce the intake for Swat River that will not only translate into an environmental disaster but also a serious challenge to the livelihood and crucial food security of the valley as well as the down riparian of Mardan, Swabi and parts Charsadda districts.
This climate change corresponds with the demographic changes and increasing anthropogenic activities. There is exponential demographic growth in the environmentally sensitive Swat valley in the last four decades. According to the 2017 census, Swat, a district of 5,337 sq km is home to about 2.3 million people with corresponding increase in the built up areas and the ever swilling vehicular traffic to meet the housing and transportation needs of the population. The per capita cultivable land in Swat is now less than one Kanal.
The population has increased more than two-fold over the last 40 years. If this trend continues this country’s population will be as high as 400 million in 2040. The population of Swat could be as high as 4.6 billion. Should this happen, there will be no vegetation or forest cover left in the area
In the last four decades, sleepy villages turned into towns with haphazard expansion with no necessary infrastructures, waste management and sewerage system. The increasing population is not only causing environmental degradation by reducing vegetation and forest cover. The carbon emission from thousands of vehicles on daily basis and the bricks and concrete made housing structures further triggers the temperature warming many folds which form a vicious cycle for climate change.
Before, the climate change turned into a fully existential threat to the human beings, it is time to develop a holistic approach to mitigate its severity if cannot reverse it altogether. The current population growth rate is the most alarming and requires serious efforts to control it. The last four decades witnessed more than two fold increase in the population. And if the existent trend continuous it will get double in the coming two decades, means in 2040, the population of Pakistan will be 400 million and Swat 4.6 million that mean no place vegetation and forest cover.
Thus, the government should wake up to the reality and treat it as non-conventional security threat. Apart from controlling population growth, a comprehensive land use plan and regulation of the built up areas and its structures, particularly in the environmentally sensitive zones should be on priority list. Currently, the jangle of bricks and concrete is mushrooming in the areas where four decades ago used to be dense forest. This trend should be controlled if cannot reverse altogether.
There should also be a plan to regulate the haphazard expansion of the villages that create environmental issues, a contributing factor to climate change. The local governments should be empower and encourage to play its role in regularization this slumisation by devising a plan for planed settlements with environmental considerations. Let think globally but act locally!
The writer is a political analyst hailing from Swat. Tweets @MirSwat
Published in Daily Times, March 8th 2018.