Dawn Editorial 1st August 2023

Climate adaptation

FOR Pakistan, searing heatwaves, severe squalls, hunger and displacement make climate change a hot topic. The country, with record temperatures and rainfall, is in unmapped territory as climate crises add more complexity to life and livelihood. Despite contributing under 1pc of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is in the midst of a perfect storm as one of the most intensely affected areas. So, extreme weather — last year’s floods in Sindh and Punjab and the current Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab tumult — is merely a foretaste of the punishing seasons ahead. Studies provide ominous conclusions: glacier loss, landslides, frequent saturation, droughts and acute heat. Perhaps, last week’s National Adaptation Plan from the Ministry of Climate Change, if put into practice with sincerity, can provide some respite from the elements. The document states: “Effective DRM [disaster risk management] requires enhancing the stability, adaptability, recovery capacity, and sustainability of all relevant sectors. This entails a meticulous process of identifying vulnerabilities… . Subsequently, implementing sectoral adaptation strategies to mitigate these risks while fortifying the overall resilience of system and service provision is paramount.” It also scans the more intricate aspects, such as health, imperilled by “heat stress”, disease, lack of amenities, as well as the blow to reproductive well-being: “It is important to stress that the adverse effects of climate change are not experienced equally by the population[;] women, the poor and landless are particularly impacted. Women are disproportionately vulnerable because their socioeconomic status is not equal to [that] of men… .”

A policy shift from impact and cause to adaptation and precaution is our burning need. Poverty, displacement, poor sustenance, damaged cropland, unsafe water, pollution, and other factors have increased mortality and morbidity rates. Little surprise then, that Pakistan is ranked 99th out of 121 countries on the Global Hunger Index, and “with a score of 26.1”, its hunger level is grievous. Also, it was fortunate that Cyclone Biparjoy, which caused brutal hot spells, dust storms and cloudbursts in southern Sindh, did not hit Pakistan, or else a frail municipal administration and scarce logistical provisions would have been swept away.

It does not help that recent research claims the hottest summer so far may be “the coolest one left” and that the UN chief has called this “the era of global boiling”. For these crucial reasons, all dispensations must treat climate vulnerability as a national emergency; investment should pour into drainage systems, dams, waterways, warning mechanisms, and pre-disaster management. Moreover, flooding dangers can be cut down with reforestation and preservation of green cover, including mangroves. An adaptation strategy cannot be set in motion without superlative human-centric climate management systems and manpower. We can avoid the worst if policymakers hit the ground running. The sun has to sustain not sear life.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2023

Gutting democracy

THE government was prevented from making a grave mistake on Sunday, as vocal protests from lawmakers from across the political spectrum forced the Senate chairman to drop the Prevention of Violent Extremism Bill, 2023, from the House’s agenda.

However, the danger doesn’t seem to have been averted, as the chairman has suggested he may take up the proposed legislation again tomorrow. It is crucial that it not be put to vote before it has been carefully deliberated by the relevant committee and debated in parliament, as is required by procedure.

As was pointed out by multiple senators, the bill in its present form appears ‘PTI-specific’, in that it seems to be aimed at knocking one party out of the political mainstream. For example, it perturbed some keen observers why “violent extremism” in the bill had been defined to cover individuals who “manipulate people’s beliefs” or “spread conspiracy theories”.

With the government currently seeking to paint the PTI chairman as a deceiver who manipulated public opinion with the ‘cipher conspiracy’, it left little doubt about who the intended target of this law could be. However, with such broad definitions, the draft law is also well equipped to cut down any party which crosses the state’s so-called ‘red lines’ down the road.

Fortunately, in this instance, even the PTI’s rivals have had the foresight to realise that this proposed law is an equal threat to their parties. The Jamaat-i-Islami’s Senator Mushtaq Ahmed described it best when he warned that, “Non-elected forces want that democracy is laid to rest through the parliament”, while refusing to consider the bill before it is debated according to procedure.

Just days ago, several important amendments to the Army Act — including those that will give the institution blanket cover as it ventures well outside its traditional domain — were rushed through the Senate in similar circumstances. On Monday, the National Assembly, too, passed the Army Act amendment bill.

While punishments for leaking sensitive information may have justifiably needed to be codified in law, other amendments have far-reaching implications for the civil-military balance of power and ought to have been debated.

Nevertheless, it is encouraging to note that some lawmakers are now saying ‘enough’. The manner in which the PDM parties — especially the PPP and PML-N — have demeaned parliament towards the end of their term will not be forgotten.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2023

GB road safety

WHILE road safety in Pakistan is overall poor, the situation is particularly acute on the high-altitude thoroughfares of Gilgit-Baltistan. After all, this beautiful region can be a challenge to navigate by road, and the combination of a rugged terrain, natural disasters and human error poses significant dangers to commuters coming from and going to the area. A tragic accident illustrates the hazards involved. At least eight people were killed after a vehicle carrying tourists from Punjab fell into a ravine near Babusar Top in Diamer last week. Officials said speeding was a key factor behind the tragedy. This is only the latest in a series of deadly accidents in this region. According to figures published in this paper, at least 45 people were killed in accidents on different GB routes during July. The affected thoroughfares include the Karakoram Highway, Babusar Pass, and Juglot-Skardu road.

There are a number of factors contributing to the high rate of accidents on GB’s roads. The terrain is so difficult that only expert drivers familiar with the region and the hazards that lie on the route should be allowed to operate vehicles on these roads. As mentioned in news reports, many of the recent accidents have involved drivers from outside the region, who are not familiar with the terrain. Also, there needs to be greater emphasis on obeying traffic rules, as speeding and rash driving on high-altitude routes is a recipe for disaster. Some reports suggest that the state plans to deploy Motorway Police on key GB routes to improve road safety conditions. This, along with ensuring that only experienced drivers familiar with the local geography are operating vehicles, can help prevent deadly accidents. Moreover, the area is prone to landslides and other natural disasters. The requisite equipment must be in place to help clear routes as soon as possible to prevent commuters from getting stranded in the midst of remote, towering mountains.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2023

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