Pakistan is about to burn out

Warning: Pakistan is at the toast point

by Hadia Sheerazi
|May 20, 2022

Many parts of South Asia experienced record high temperatures in April. Source: NOAA

This weekend, Pakistan was one of the hottest places in the world.

My hometown of Karachi, with a population of 25 million, caved in 102°F (38.9°C) heat.

Jacobabad and Nawabshah, home to nearly 500,000 people, were even hotter, with record high temperatures topping 120°F (48.9°C) over several days.

The 14-day forecast is even worse: next weekend, Lahore is expected to reach 50°C (122°F).

As scorching temperatures sweep through the world’s fifth most populous (and fifth most climate-vulnerable) country, Pakistanis without reliable access to energy are sweltering in the sweltering heat relentlessly.

Rural and low-income districts are grilling for Breakdowns of 9 to 12 hours. Pakistan’s latest energy crisis has dealt a crippling blow to an already overloaded and decrepit grid system unable to meet the nation’s growing demand for electricity. Prices for coal and liquid natural gas, critical inputs for Pakistan’s fossil fuel power plants, continue to soar during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, driving prices well beyond the power of purchase of the impoverished South Asian nation which is currently struggling with over $216 billion. in the national debt.

This horrific tragedy is unfolding against the backdrop of the current global COVID-19 pandemic, chronic water scarcity associated with extreme flooding from rapidly melting glaciers and, two days ago, a deadly cholera epidemic infecting thousands of people in northern Pakistan. Soaring temperatures are also threatening vital cash crop exports and the food security of 220 million people, a majority of whom are already living in acute multidimensional poverty, i.e. experiencing health deprivation (nutrition , infant mortality), education (years of schooling, school attendance) and standard of living (cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing and assets).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that April 2022 was the warmest in Pakistan and India since global record keeping began in 1880. May 2022 will likely follow.

A map of extreme events around the world in April 2022

A map of extreme events around the world in April 2022. Source: NOAA

These unprecedented heat waves are threatening the livelihoods of millions of low-income Pakistanis who are day labourers, farmers and outdoor workers who cannot afford to ‘shelter’ and stay at home. indoors during peak heat hours from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Excessive exposure to high heat combined with high humidity, which limits the human body’s ability to cool through sweat, is fatal for the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, but can also quickly become fatal for young and healthy people. The heat is also aggravating health problems for high-risk groups, especially those with asthma and respiratory illnesses, as Pakistan has the second-worst air quality in the world.

the National Disaster Management Authority, Pakistan Meteorological Departmentand state and local governments and disaster management authorities have collectively issued widespread warnings to the general public about dangerous temperatures and the warning signs of fatal heat stroke, especially in children and the elderly , including through emergency text messages and social media posts.

Warning signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Warning signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Sources: Punjab Health Care Commission; YOU SAID; Pakistan Disaster Management Authority

Unfortunately, Pakistan’s national and local disaster management plans do not provide the levels of funding, inclusiveness and urgency needed to address the scale of the crisis. This is confirmed by a review of various official documents, including the Karachi Heat Wave Management Planthe Billion Tree Afforestation Project after Tsunami (2014), the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Project (2018), the Pakistan’s Inclusive Wealth: The Case for Investing in Natural Capital and Restoration (2021), and most recent Updated National Determined Contributions submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at COP26 (2021).

The following elements are conspicuously missing from Pakistan’s current disaster mitigation and management strategies:

  1. Inclusive disaster risk reduction to support high-risk, disabled and elderly Pakistanis:

Major harm reduction proposals lack specific strategies that address the unique needs and vulnerabilities of people with disabilities and older residents, especially those residing in rural and remote communities with limited or no accessibility. The national government may also need to consider earmarking (or raising) emergency funds for food and water during the worst days of heatwaves to protect farmers, laborers and outdoor workers from the exhibition.

  1. Public-private partnerships for heat management and “clean” cooling:

The cooling action plan in Pakistan needs a clear policy directive to buy back and/or phase out R22 and R22 Freon air conditioners which started selling at knockdown prices in Pakistan after international bans in more developed countries. The Department of Climate Change must also seek partnerships with European and North American cities to help design and fund the billions that will be needed for robust heat wave management strategies.

  1. A viable long-term development strategy to address Pakistan’s chronic energy insecurity:

Energy poverty and insecurity will continue to exacerbate climate risks and lead to huge GDP losses, while hampering the development of Pakistan’s youth (over 64% of the population is aged 30 and under), who faces significant interruptions to schooling and employment, as well as poor physical and mental health as a result.

There has never been a clearer call for climate action or more compelling evidence that climate change is an acute threat multiplier in the world’s poorest and most vulnerable frontline countries.

The nightmare scenario for Pakistan is not 2050 or 2100.

If nothing changes, and quickly, many Pakistanis may not even survive 2030.

Hadia Sheerazi is the program manager of the Carbon Management Research Initiative at the Columbia Climate School Center on Global Energy Policy.

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