The recent devastating floods in Chitral and the meager relief response by the government and civil society has exposed the country’s vulnerability to disaster management. Floods regularly occur on the Indus system and it appears the government has done little preparations after the record floods of 2010 that killed thousands and displaced millions.
Pakistan incurs an annual loss of $24 billion as a result of adverse impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. For a developing country like Pakistan, spending a fraction of that amount on devising local strategies to fight climate change could end up in very large dividends.
Pakistan is faced with a myriad of environmental hazards closely attributable to climate change. Heatwaves are just one of the manifestations of the Holocene climate change which the earth is witnessing in the 21st century; 14 of the last 15 years have been the hottest in recorded history. Sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean are rising at rates much higher than the other oceans of the planet thereby changing the monsoon patterns. This will inevitably give rise to another geologic hazard namely salt water intrusion. In this case saline water from the ocean will gradually replace fresh water aquifers along the Sindh and Balochistan coastlines affecting drinking water supplies and mangrove habitats.
Floods, droughts and desertification are already adversely affecting the livelihood of poor peasants all over the country. Pakistan has seen the worst loss to its vegetation canopy in the past three decades because of over-population, deforestation and haphazard urbanization. Timber mafia has been emboldened by very high demand for lumber and augmented by the eroding law and order situation in the country. Reforestation campaigns have not produced any tangible results as they have been mainly focused on style rather than substance.
Chronic air- and water-borne diseases are on the rise and can quickly become endemic or even pandemic in the face of meager healthcare facilities, especially in rural parts of the country.
The 2010 floods in north Pakistan were the worst natural disaster in recorded history and scientists at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva said there is no doubt that higher sea surface temperatures contributed to the disaster. Fresh Snowpacks, glacial melts and unprecedented monsoon rains had caused flooding in the Indus River Basin since then on a yearly basis. This fact alone calls for an effective flood control system by building small and medium dams on the Indus and Kabul Rivers which will also help mitigate chronic power shortages in the country.
General public is well aware of the dangers posed by climate change to their communities, however, the government’s perception needs a drastic makeover. Mushahidullah Khan, Minister for the newly elevated Ministry of Climate Change was quick to blame Indian nuclear reactors in Rajasthan for the recent devastating heatwave in southern parts of the country that killed more than 1200 people in less than a week. When category-4 tropical cyclone Nilofar was developing in the Indian Ocean in October 2014, it was clearly headed for the Karachi coastline. When a female lawmaker turned the attention of Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani towards the impending danger, he declared it on the Assembly floor that the tomb of Saint Abdullah Shah Ghazi will save Karachi from cyclone Nilofar. He also advised those who were “afraid of the cyclone” to move to interior Sindh. Predictably, no warnings were issued and no assets were mobilized by the government. Had Nilofar made a landfall on Karachi coast, the damage to life and property would have been unimaginable.
There is no continuation of policies to tackle climate change from one government to the next. Though there is no need for a separate ministry for climate change, but it was set up nonetheless by the PPP government in 2012. Indeed, for the current government, which is battling terrorism and energy shortages, climate change is clearly not a priority and the ambitious National Climate Change Policy that was launched by the previous government in March 2013 was shelved right after its launch. The ministry was downgraded to a division within the Environment ministry by the current Nawaz government who once again flipped the coin and elevated it to a full ministry last month. There is no budgetary allocation for the ministry which is housed in the same building as it was in 2012, its only job is to coordinate climate change strategies and facilitate the stakeholders.
Pakistan is having a hard time fighting climatic hazards because the people’s confidence in government solving their issues is almost non-existent and the lowest in the South Asian region. Fighting climate change will be a long, arduous road and government will be well-advised to make it an integral part of school and college curriculum. Disaster management departments of the government are fighting climate change by organizing seminars and conferences which is a good start but it is tantamount to barely scratching the surface of this behemoth issue.
Plenty of international funding is available to fight climate change. Last week Bill Gates unveiled plans to invest $2 billion in clean energy projects over the next five years, Pakistan must strive to secure a sizeable chunk of this money to tap into its vast potential for solar and wind energy. With enormous power line losses, there is no way Pakistan can remain dependent on its dwindling hydro power generation from large reservoirs which have already been silted up. Alternative energy resources are the only viable option for Pakistan to overcome its chronic energy shortages.
Water is not an unlimited resource; fresh water aquifers are under severe strain and Pakistan will be a water-starved country in the next seven years. It is high time to devise a comprehensive water conservation strategy and women participation must be ensured for any meaningful outcomes. The time has come to stop the enormous water wastage for personal, industrial and agricultural purposes. Pakistan must adhere to the “5 R’s” of conservation; Reduce, Repurpose, Reuse, Recycle, and Restore.
Why should we care in the first place as to how did the ancient life looked like or how have humans and other primates evolved? Humans were sent by God from Heavens is a good enough reason for many, however, there is a better reason to care about the processes that have sculpted human evolution. Understanding this question is the key to understanding why people look and behave the way they do. In this context, it is important to re-examine questions and expressions such as; why are we fighting like animals or even better, why are we fighting worse than animals? ISIS is worse than animals; why do people look so different around the world? What is the future of humanity? All of these questions and many more are related to the evolution of the human body, mind and behavior.
In an age of horrendous ethnic conflicts and increasing strain on respect for multicultural diversity, we are constantly reminded of the variations within human species. For this very reason, it is essential that we strive to understand how life evolved on Earth. Humans have always been baffled by their existence and they have looked for answers since the dawn of modern human civilization.
Darwin’s discovery of the principles of evolution by natural selection in 1838 has subsequently been augmented by discoveries in genetics and amplified by studies of the evolutionary patterns of thousands of land and aquatic organisms. The theory of Evolution, along with the theory of Plate Tectonics, now provides the foundation for our basic understanding of how life evolved on Earth.
While studying human evolution, it is important to note that life first appeared on Earth some 4 billion years ago (bya) in the form of unicellular organisms which most probably developed by chemosynthesis around hydrothermal vents or black smokers in paleo-oceans. Hydrothermal vents are hot chimneys which bring enormous amounts of minerals and metals from deeper horizons and deposit them on the ocean floors. The contribution of comets bringing huge amounts of water to the newly formed Earth must be appreciated and somewhere in that process they may have brought specs of life with them as well. After initial accretion at 4.6 bya, the Earth was still a molten ball of magma. Once the Earth cooled down significantly in the first 500 million years, continents started to form from nuclei of small islands. There is no evidence to suggest that any life form existed in the first 1.4 billion years of the Earth’s history.
The Earth’s history is organized in Geologic Time Scale and is divided into several categories called eons, eras, periods and epochs in descending order of time segments. The earliest period is called the PreCambrian (570 mya to 4.6 bya), followed by Paleozoic (570 mya to 280 mya), Mesozoic (280 mya to 65 mya) and finally Cenozoic spanning from 65 mya to the present time.
Cambrian Explosion took place around 570 mya, where unicellular organisms were converted into multicellular organisms, mostly invertebrates. Life remained exclusively in oceans for the next 150 million years. Trilobites were dominating the oceans while amphibians were exploring new territories on the fringes. Plants decided to invade the land around 400 mya and about the same time amphibians were giving way to reptiles. Paleozoic or ancient life came to an end in a mass extinction 280 mya when trilobites and 95% of marine life became extinct. This was the first time life on Earth suffered a setback, but every tragedy has a silver lining and in this case reptiles and dinosaurs started to thrive both on land and in oceans.
The interplay of continents and oceans has occurred many times in geologic history and around 250 million years ago (mya) they were all lumped together in the form of a super-continent called the Pangea. Imagine the heat in the interior of such a huge continental mass whereas the coastlines were soaked with rainfall and enormous waves! In this super-ocean, majority of the Earth’s life was thriving.
Continents were drifting apart, colliding with each other, moving away from each other, new oceans and mountain chains were forming and consequently new climates and life forms were evolving. Large mountains and oceans create impediments to movement of land life and consequently adaptations lead to the creation of new species. Madagascar (not the movie) was once part of India when it was drifting towards Eurasia but somehow it was left behind where it is now, hence it has its own unique fauna and flora. Continental Drift and Sea Floor Spreading (the two component theories of Plate Tectonics) are essential to understanding the fundamentals of Evolutionary process.
Mesozoic (or middle life) came to an abrupt end when an asteroid struck the Earth creating Chicxulub Crater, just west of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The intruding body was six miles across and unleashed the power of hundreds of thousands of atomic bombs. The effects were widespread from the Cretaceous-Tertiary (or K-T) mass extinction and one estimate is that there was complete blackout of the sunrays for at least six months and the skies remained murkey for at least 10 years. This basically killed all the photosynthetic activities on the Earth’s surface which are essential for living organisms. The increased volcanic activity around this time (e.g., creating the Deccan flats in India) made things even more complicated. Imagine the problems these events created for the living organisms including the big guys! Dinosaurs, owing to their large size, could not withstand the catastrophic events and most other organisms failed to adapt to the emerging climatic conditions.
Mammals remained insignificant throughout Mesozoic as dinosaurs straddled the top of the evolutionary pyramid. Once the giants were gone, stage was set for great mammalian evolution and spectacular radiation. Cenozoic (or recent life) is rightly called the mammalian era where thousands of mammal species are occupying various nitches both on land and in oceans. While discussing human evolution, we almost always forget the simultaneous evolution of plant species. Mesozoic was dominated by gymnosperms which resembled modern conifers, however early Cenozoic era saw the radiation of angiosperms (flowering plants) which bore colorful fruits. Savannahs and grasslands developed simultaneously, and combined with angiosperms, provided shelter, food and matting spaces for mammals, birds and insects which were not available in earlier time periods.
Placental and marsupial mammals that bore live young evolved at the beginning of Cenozoic and all of the modern descendents such as horses, bats, whales, lions, elephants and primates evolved and radiated with favorable climatic and ecological conditions. In order to understand human evolution from a small organism to the modern Homo sapiens, it is essential to comprehend that complex adaptations are assembled gradually, in numerous small steps that are favored by natural selection.
Humans evolved over millions of years and if you “believe” the Earth was formed 6000 years ago then there is no room for understanding all the intervening evolutionary steps. It will make perfect sense to you that the Grand Canyon was carved by Noah’s floods and dinosaurs roamed the earth along with humans! However, critical thinking and reasoning paint a different story; all organisms are related to each other and the fossil record is a testimony to that. The fossil record maybe incomplete but it points to discenrable patterns in biological evolution.
Evolution is a trial-and-error method; if an organism fails to adapt to the new environment, s/he is on its way out. Armadillos are a recent example of evolutionary failure; they have not updated their hardware and software, so to speak, and that’s why they are just about to become extinct (besides being killed on the roads). You cant install Windows10 on a PentiumII machine!
Bipedal locomotion, dentition, larger brains as a proportion of body size, flat nails as opposed to claws, long juvenile periods and communication through well developed languages are traits that separate Homo sapiens from other primates (gorillas, orangutans, baboons, lemurs, chimpanzes, gibbons, macaques, monkeys and apes). These genetic and ecological adaptations are a product of mutations and natural selections and took millions of years to arrive at the current state.
Modern humans are complex organisms evolved over millions of years. They exhibit different traits based on genetics and environment in which they are present now and the traits of their ancestors. Humans also have inherent differences due to their socio-economic conditions and it is essential that all those differences are taken into account before any labels are applied. Humans are highly complex organisms and the more we study their origin, the better we will understand their differences and similarities. At the end of the day humans are evolved animals!
The Himalayan region, stretching from Afghanistan to Myanmar, is not new to large earthquakes that result in destruction. Seismicity in the region dominantly results from the continental collision of the Indian plate to the south and the Eurasia plate to the north.
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Every time a horrific attack occurs in the west, renewed calls are issued for “reforming Islam”. Every time those calls fall on deaf ears, conveniently ignored, and religious zealots ask for even bloodier attacks. Renewed calls to reform Islam after the horrific attacks on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo are reverberating all over the globe.
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There are many questions than answers at this time and we may never find all the answers. Why is Peshawar (The land of Pashtuns) the prime target of terrorists? Why are terrorists freely allowed to perpetrate such horrific acts in broad daylight? Why are more military cantonments being erected on Pashtun lands? Why are terrorist masterminds being harbored in Punjab and Karachi? Why are we not shown any evidence of the 1200 terrorists being allegedly killed by the Army in Waziristan and Khyber Agencies? Why is the Pakistani establishment not going after Haqqani network and Lashkare Jhangavi etc.? Why is Pakistan still pursuing the failed “Good Taliban/Bad Taliban” policy?
There is no need to derive science from religion and vice versa. Europe has bitterly experimented with mixing religion and science and learned the hard way that the two must be kept separate. It is useless to re-invent the wheel. The so-called Muslim scholars were simply scholars and scientists, and they did not derive their conclusions from mastering the Arabic language. Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein are simply scientists; they are not Christian/Jewish scientists. Science is based on reasoning and critical thinking; there is nothing sacred about scientific principles.
Here is my take on what Mr. Khan can learn from developmental activities in Afghanistan and put his own house in order. I want to see him direct his energies and those of his followers to constructive activities.
Imran Khan and his party followers strongly believe that a regime change is the panacea for all ills in Pakistan. This is a sure way to set him up for failure. Whether Imran Khan makes transition to the PM office as of this point, in three and a half years or never, is yet to be seen. Believing in him as a Messiah and a last hope is nothing less than fascism. Believing in achievable-targets is the way to go.
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The Daily Times carried out my Op-Ed on the above. Details given below.
The environmental effects of the tests are numerous. Geologists believe that the tests have not only caused a decline in ground water but have also contaminated both surface and ground waters. Consequently, the contaminated water is not suitable for human consumption or even farming and ranching. Global climate change, resulting in water scarcity, has already plagued the entire region. Open-pit metal mining at the nearby Saindak/Reko Diq mining field is an additional factor to pollute the environment.
I have been following population sprawl in south Asia for quite some time but this is the first time I have dared to write on it.
By 2050, Pakistan is slated for a population of more than 300 million. Why this population explosion? How did Pakistan arrive at such a ticking bomb? The answer lies in comparing the situation with two regional countries; Iran and Bangladesh used a community based health and family planning approach and achieved a sustainable fertility rate.
Dr. Asim Yousafzai
Dr. Yousafzai received his Ph.D. degree from Kent State University in 2005. He is a geoscience/geostrategy professional and has worked in the South and Central Asian regions for the past 20 years. He has published numerous articles on the natural resources, economy, politics and society of Afghanistan and Pakistan.