Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Friday, December 17, 2010

Archive: What do Pakistan's Woes Have to Do with Me?

[This post was originally written in August.  We are publishing it again, in advance of tomorrow's post regarding the impact of sea level rise on American cities.]

If you’re like me, you haven’t missed a day’s coverage of the unfolding flood disaster in Pakistan.  The monsoon rains have hit with unprecedented fury, flooding into an Indus River torrent already swollen by melting Himalayan glaciers.   The statistics are mind-numbing: 20 million people homeless; virtually the entire agricultural heartland wiped out; cholera outbreaks; food prices running up six-fold within a span of two weeks.  And as always, the poor suffer most heavily from the devastation.
Maybe I should do something to help, like contribute to World Vision or World Relief (see links at end).  But other than that, what does the Pakistani crisis have to do with me?
Well, plenty, it turns out.  But first, let’s review a few things we know for certain:
ü  Pakistan is about half as populous as the USA, with over 160 million people.
ü  Pakistan is overwhelmingly reliant on the Indus River system – for about 97% of its total water needs.
ü  Pakistan uses almost every drop that flows down the Indus, with little or none of it reaching the Arabian Sea in recent years.
ü  Pakistan has suffered increasingly intense monsoon storms in the last 40 years, with fewer total days of rain, but more days of torrential rain.
ü  Intense monsoon rains have caused a major increase in flooding in Pakistan in the last ten years, destroying food supplies and killing thousands.
ü  At the same time, severe droughts in Pakistan in the last ten years have led to sharp declines in the water table, leading to “mass starvation,” according to the UN panel on climate change.
ü  The UN’s climate panel has confirmed that climate change is a significant factor in these developments, hitting crop yields, fomenting extreme weather events and melting the glaciers that feed Asia’s rivers.
Those are facts.  We’re less certain about what lies ahead, of course.  But here’s what the world’s leading researchers are projecting for Asia:


ü  Less food: Decrease in total crop yields in South Asia of up to 30%. (UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007 4th Assessment Report, Ch. 10)
ü  More intense monsoons: Increase in total South Asia monsoon-season rain by 15-26% by the end of the century. (UN)
ü  Worse flooding:  Tripling of heavy rainfall days in Asia within 50 years. (UN)
ü  Drying rivers: Loss of river water to virtually all Asian countries due to Himalayan glacier melt (UN); up to 40% less for Pakistan (World Bank).
ü  More water stress: 38% decline in available water per person in already-thirsty South Asia by 2050. (UN)
ü  More hunger and starvation:  266 million more hungry Asians by 2080. (UN)
And for Pakistan, the World Bank is projecting Himalayan glaciers to melt, causing a catastrophic decline in Pakistan’s water supply:  “It is now clear that climate change is already affecting these western glaciers in a dramatic fashion….  This is likely to exacerbate the already serious problem of flooding in the next few decades.  But then, the glacial reservoirs will be empty, and there are likely to be dramatic decreases in river flows … conceivably by a terrifying 30 to 40% ….”  (World Bank Report #34081-PK)
So one more time:  devastating floods for the next few decades, followed by a “terrifying” drying of the river upon which all Pakistanis depend for their lives.  And what, exactly, does this have to do with us?  Consider three final facts:
ü  All of this human suffering has been linked to the changing climate.
ü  Greenhouse gases are a major driver of global climate change.
ü  The average American generates more greenhouse gases than 21 Pakistanis.
Maybe we should take a look at those websites below.
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood
Pakistan relief agencies:

1 comment:

  1. This one was, and still is, my favorite post :)
    thanks for the reminder.