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    Climate Change, its impact on Chitral and some local ways to go about it – By: Shah Karez

    Climate Change, its impact on Chitral and some local ways to go about it – By: Shah Karez

    According to the United Nations, ‘Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. Such shifts can be natural, due to changes in the sun’s activity or large volcanic eruptions. Since the Industrial Revolution, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas’.

    Burning fossil fuels generates greenhouse gas emissions that act like a blanket wrapped around the Earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising temperatures. The clearing of forests contributes to worsen the situation.

    Climate Science has proved that earth’s temperature has increased to 1.1 degree Celsius more than what it used to be before the pre industrial era. The rise in temperature has consequences for our life on earth. It affects us globally as well as locally. Some regions are more affected than others. Pakistan is one of the most affected countries due to global warming  which has been acknowledged by the United Nations.

    The water towers  of Pakistan including Karakorum, Hindukush, Pamirs and the Himalayas are now increasingly feeling the heat and extreme weather conditions. These water reservoirs are the lifeline of all the riparian population and the flora and fauna and other life systems fed by the river systems emanating from the mountains mentioned above.

    I venture to present here some of the threats to the life systems in the Hindukush Chitral side of northern Pakistan based on personal observation. The situation may be similar in the remaining parts of the region.

    Chitral lies between the Hindukush and Hinduraj ranges in its length and breadth from south to north covering an area of 14850 sq. Kms. My personal observation covers 23 years of the twenty first century.

    I start by recent example of extreme weather conditions prevailing in Chitral during 12 to 15 April, 2024. It started raining cats and dogs gradually turning into regular snow fall in the higher parts of the valley finally reaching Chitral town. Snow fall in April is rare, the only memory of snow fall in this month I can recall was on April 7, 2007 that was limited to the higher elevations, avalanche buried a house in Washich, with two casualties and losses of livestock .

    This time round there was unprecedented snowfall in Chitral town and resulting floods in almost all nullahs particularly Asherate, Kaldamgol, Chumurkhon left travelers going to work places in down country after Eid vacations stranded at different locations due to road blockage. The roads from Chitral to all other valleys are reported to have been blocked due to landslides, floods, rock falls. Schools have been closed, tourists stranded in Bumburet, many more Eid visitors could not make it back to their work places. The most difficult situation was observed in the under construction roads of Chitral to Shandur and Bumburet causing heavy rock falls and land slides, result of technical faults in ruthless blasting of rocks.

    These devastating rains and snow fall came at a very crucial time when apricot was in full bloom upto Pawur village in the main valley. Apricot and apple are the two important sources of livelihood in this area. There is likelihood of heavy losses in both the income sources not to speak of the wheat crop that has suddenly come under snow test for its survival. Assessment of losses always come late after such disasters.

    During the past over two decades we have seen GLOF events and flash floods in 45 villages of Chitral. In some villages such as Brep, Reshun, Buni, Golen and Shishikuh the floods repeatedly occur each summer. In 2001 Yarkhunlasht village received glacial outburst floods, the same year it occurred in Wasum followed by Brep in 2005, Sonoghur in 2007, Buni in 2010, 2015, Reshun in 2010, 15,20,22.

    In the event of floods the farmers lose crops, farm lands are filled with debris, irrigation systems, livestock including home based poultry, animal fodder, forest trees, houses, fruit orchards, village based businesses,  government schools, roads, drinking water systems, everything is washed away. In Brep alone 35 households were completely displaced as a result of repeated floods from 2005 onward.

     Many people think climate change mainly means warmer temperatures. But temperature rise is only the beginning of the story. Because the Earth is a system, where everything is connected, changes in one area can influence changes in all others. Climate change can affect our health, ability to grow food, housing, safety and work. In the future, the number of people displaced by weather-related events is expected to rise in Chitral as in other parts of the country nay in the world.

    The extreme weather events have disrupted the whole fabric of the society. The main source of livelihood in a place like Chitral is subsistence agriculture backed up by supplementary income from home based poultry, fruit trees, cattle including few heads of sheep and goats. The shortfall in farm income is made up by services in the public and private sector, small businesses and labour.  A slight set back in any of the income sources sends the household to the bottom rung of the ladder. All the home-based sources of livelihood become  vulnerable when floods start hitting, food security becoming a challenge. Increasing health issues and psychological disorders leave a different story.

    We admit that the issue can effectively be addressed globally when all governments join hands. In the context of Chitral there is no point in waiting. There are options for local actions on the part of the government, NGOs and the communities that can definitely deliver economic benefits while improving and protecting the environment, enhance resilience and adaptation.

    International Funds on account of flood losses and damages of the 2022 floods must have been received by the government. This issue was reiterated in the Conference of the Parties (COP28) summit that concluded on 12 December, 2023 in Dubai. There should be no dearth of international funds at this point in time as far as flood losses and damages are concerned.

    The federal and provincial government must provide funds for the following projects from their own revenue and in coordination with the International Agencies that deal with Flood Losses and Damages.

    • Installation of LPG stations at locations accessible to most consumers both in Upper and Lower Chitral. Land for this purpose was purchased in three locations of Lower Chitral and more land in few other locations in Upper Chitral must be purchased and LPG stations established. This will save the ruthless cutting of the forest for fuel purposes.
    • Funds may be arranged for the installation of Solar power in all feasible locations. Qaqlasht in upper Chitral  and many other feasible locations can be turned into green by supplying green energy. This project alone, if implemented successfully, can have normalizing effect on the extremities of weather patterns in Chitral. There are similar places  in the length and breadth of Chitral where such projects can be implemented.
    • The water energy must be used to provide cheap electricity to the local population. According to an old survey carried out with UNICEF funding Chitral rivers and nullahs have the capacity to generate 5000 mega watts of hydro-power and 45 locations have been identified as feasible. Out of this power Chitral only needs around 100 MWs for all purposes,  the rest can be added to the national grid. Please take it seriously if you want to save the glaciers, not a big deal, only commitment and honest implementation matters.
    • Afforestation: All the slopes can be turned green only when power is available to uplift water. Afforestation at a massive scale is a must to stabilize the slopes, increase absorption capacity and guard against run off rain water damages, not to speak of multiple environmental benefits.
    • All the impediments in the  flood courses must be cleared and strong embankments must be erected. This is important to create resilience and reduce losses by flash floods pending the longer time solutions suggested above.
    • NGOs such as Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP) and the Aga Khan Development agencies must be fully supported and motivated by the government to implement nature based projects that enhance resilience and adaptation of the communities in addition to improving economic condition.
    • It may not be out of place to say that Chitral needs improved road network for tourism promotion, and enabling the communities for economic growth. Needless to say that the current on going road projects such as Lowari tunnel to Shandur pass and Burmburet road have become a bad name for the implementing agency because of technical negligence, unnecessary delay in funding and implementation issues. Last but not the least, these projects and for that matter all other valley road network needs urgent attention.

    Since Chitral has now 8 elected and nominated representatives in the Centre and in KP. This level of representation in the provincial and national parliament is unprecedented in history. Now or never, is the best phrase that fits well in this scenario. The onus now lies on the public representatives of Chitral whether they engage in the traditional tug of war politics or join hands to fight for resources and spend wisely in the best interest and sustainable development of Chitral.


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