Climate change conference: Poor nations to pay for sins of rich ones
KARACHI, Jan 29: Speakers at a conference on Tuesday said that though rich and developed countries were causing global warming, poor countries, particularly those in South Asia, were more vulnerable to climatic change related calamities than the guilty ones.
Speaking on the first day of the two-day regional conference organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) on ‘Climate change and disaster response in South Asia — exploring commonalities and realising joint frameworks’, they also criticised the role played by the polluting countries — the United States, China, Russia, etc — that were effectively blocking an effective global mechanism curtailing their greenhouse emission levels to curtail or even slow down climate change, which propelled natural disasters.
Sindh rehabilitation minister Muzaffar Shujra said the government had spent over Rs22 billion on the rescue, relief and rehabilitation of the victims of the 2010, 2011 and 2012 floods. He claimed that billions of rupees had been distributed as financial assistance through Watan Cards.
Referring to the disaster-related vulnerability of Karachi, he said the city faced at least five threats — tsunami, cyclone, seismic activity, over 150 high-rise buildings being dangerous, and the nuclear power plant.
Referring to relief activities, he said that deputy commissioners were made focal persons in affected districts and they identified the areas and helped send relief goods there. He, however, agreed with a participant that, keeping in view the overall honesty level in society, misappropriation in the relief goods distribution could not be totally ruled out.
Former adviser to Sindh chief minister Dr Kaiser Bengali said some villages needed to be relocated to higher ground so that floodwaters passed without causing much damage and smaller villages needed to be merged and bigger villages be established so that basic amenities, including schools and clinics, were provided at a low cost.
Dr Raghunandan of the Delhi Science Forum, speaking through video conferencing, said the industrialised countries refused to accept emission cuts and were pushing developing countries to take up the burden of climate change. He said that all South Asian states faced errant rainfalls, which caused devastation. He said India had 60 per cent rain-fed area and was highly vulnerable to climate variability, posing food security threats and affecting agricultural incomes.
Naseer Memon of the Strengthening Participatory Organisation said South Asia had become a disaster hotspot as almost all major rivers feeding it originated from the Himalayan glaciers which were melting and shrinking. He said 75 per cent of the population of the region lived in rural areas, was poor and more vulnerable to devastation of natural calamities. He said a government study conducted a decade back showed hundreds of thousands of fertile acres in Thatta and Badin districts had been affected by sea intrusion.
Sono Khanghrani, a rural development consultant and NGO Thardeep’s former chief, said that out of the past 55 years 35 had been drought years in Thar while the province had been affected by 15 to 16 floods during that time.
He said the media were the first to reach a disaster-hit area, followed by NGOs, political parties and eventually the international NGOs, owing to their long procedure and process, the government arrived at the scene around a month and half later. He said around $5 billion had come into the country as foreign aid since 2005, but a large chunk of it went back as fees of their consultants, monitors, etc overseeing the operations. He said it was unfortunate that injustices occurred in aid distribution in some areas on the basis of political affiliations.
Dr Jaffer Ahmed of Karachi University said that since the peoples of South Asia shared rivers, history, culture and had many similarities, it was high time that their governments formulated policies that facilitated the people to meet one another easily. He suggested that a research institute be established to develop and collect data and analyses that could be used for planning in case of disasters.
Charles Pradhan from Nepal said that though there had been political instability, constitutional crises, conflicts etc and the country had had 20 governments since 1990, Nepal was progressing and it was promoting community forestation and agriculture.
Karamat Ali of Piler said none of the South Asian countries had friendly relations with all its neighbours owing to which not only did they damage natural resources, but they also spent heavily on defence activities which otherwise could have been used to improve the quality of life of the poor.
He criticised the Pakistan government for not granting visas to the invited Indian and Bangladesh experts to attend the conference. He said an intelligence official called him every day and asked him to come to see him or send someone on his behalf for visa clearance, but he refused so eventually the official asked him to send him Rs1,000 for each member of the delegates. He refused that too, said the Piler chief, adding that the result was that the Indian and Bangladeshi delegates could not get the visas.
Idris Rajput, Tahir Hasnain, Hameeda Kaleem, Arif Jabbar, Hussainullah, Ismail Kumbhar, Manzoor Ahmed, Hassan Marri, and others also spoke.