Countries in South Asia, especially India and Pakistan, can change lives by coming together to overcome challenges posed by environment
By Aoun Sahi
South Asia, home to one-fifth of the population on earth, is a disaster-prone region. Experts believe two-thirds of disasters the region experiences are climate-related and there have been increase in their occurrence, severity and unpredictability in recent times.
If the aspirations of young people of the region are to be realised in a place challenged by resource-scarcity and climate change, it will require a new mode of thinking and an intensification of bilateral cooperation. It was in this spirit that a small group of Young Global Leaders (YGL) from both sides of the border took the initiative at the World Economic Forum's regional summit in New Delhi in November 2010 under title of YGL Indo-Pak Cooperation Initiative.
The basic philosophy behind this initiative is to realise that Pakistan and India need to address issues of shared natural resource and climate challenges with a view to building a new narrative of cooperation based on sensible risk management and benefit-sharing.
The conference of YGL titled, "Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management - Managing Risks: Sharing Benefits" took place on July 8-9, 2011 at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) in Lahore, Pakistan. Aman Ki Asha, an initiative of Jang Group of Newspapers Pakistan and Times of India Group, India was one of the organizers of the conference besides Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), among others.
While understanding of impacts of climate change in the region is in its early stages, experts point to higher temperatures, rise in sea level, floods, droughts and extreme weather as manifestations likely to impact every area from agriculture to human health and economic productivity.
Disasters, such as floods in Pakistan, are likely to increase not diminish in number and impact. As far as climate change and disaster management is concerned most countries of the region have been working in relative isolation. There is a dire need that both India and Pakistan take a lead in the region and must develop effective adaptation strategies to climate risk and a proactive approach to resource scarcity to meet the needs and aspirations of their people.
Climate change threatens our long-term existence and is already hugely impacting lives of millions in the two countries. The World Meteorological Organisation has linked last year's floods to observable changes in weather patterns as global temperatures rise. This is a fact. Pakistan and India are vulnerable to climate impacts, ranging from extreme weather such as floods, cyclones, droughts and storm surge, to deepening water and food insecurity.
It seems that the youth in both countries, since it does not carry the baggage of partition and its early consequences, is ready to realise new challenges to the region and looking for the common solutions to them.
Malini Mehra, CEO of Centre for Social Markets, a non-profit organisation that works on sustainability and corporate responsibility in India, thinks that holding the launch of this project in Pakistan is highly symbolic. "Typically, it has been difficult for Indians to secure visas for Pakistan, and vice versa. We overcame these difficulties with excellent cooperation from the Pakistani authorities and look upon this as a good omen for the future," she tells TNS.
Participants from India, Pakistan and other countries strongly recommend both India and Pakistan to form close liaison on disaster management for sharing information on climate change, including early flood warming system.
There is a lot of room to develop our ability to deal with catastrophes in our region. "Can you imagine how much more challenging the future will be if such trends continue with rise in population? The only sensible option, therefore, is to cooperate," says Mehra who believes that we need a joint, proactive strategy of regional climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction.
The alternative, according to her is conflict. "We need to cooperate on basic things such as assessing the risk of climate impacts on our region, sharing data on water flows and changes to hydrology, look at how food productivity is being affected by rising temperatures, and how disease prevalence is changing as vectors spread with changing weather patterns". These are practical things in the public interest of both nations. "They are win-wins. Working on climate change is one of the best conflict reduction measures I know. It puts our risks in perspective, and reminds us that in the face of much greater natural forces, we are human and fragile and need to cooperate to survive and prosper," she says.
Four sessions on various aspects of climate change and disaster risk reduction were held on July 8. Norwegian Peace-building Resource Centre's consultant, Mr Michael Renner, giving examples of Tsunami and 2005 Pakistan earthquake, talked about post-disaster diplomacy and said disasters could jolt political and social trajectory. "Building early warning networks are good for regional cooperation" he said.
Director General of Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) Punjab, Khalid Sherdil, talked about climate shift and glacial melting zone, saying over the years Pakistan became a water-shortage country owing to climate change. He informed that so far India has not violated Indus Water Treaty and all its projects are lawful under this treaty.
Prof N Vinod Chandra Menon, former member of National Disaster Management Authority, India participated through video conference from Delhi and said natural disasters were common to India and Pakistan. He said India learnt a lesson from Gujrat earthquake and launched schools and hospital safety projects. "Pakistan and India need to strengthen relationship and learn lessons from each other and to work together on climate change and disasters risk reduction. Youth from both countries should be included in all such collaborations," he said.
Yana Walid Abu-Talib from Eco-peace/Friends of the Earth Middle East talks about shared water resources among Jordon, Israel and Palestine. She also focused on Good Water Neighbours project of her organisation and said its success was result of participation by community members, decision-makers and role of schools/adult community centres. Yana believes communities on both sides of the border should understand each other's problems.
Beena Sarwar, Editor Aman ki Asha, Jang Group, briefed the participants about the project which was launched on January 1, 2010. She explained how the project was creating an enabling environment and contributing towards peace-building between Pakistan and India. She shared the results of surveys conducted prior to the launch and a year after the launch of Aman ki Asha. "About 77 percent of Pakistanis and 87 percent Indians consider that international pressure may help in bringing peace, while 71 percent Pakistanis and 72 percent Indians pin hopes on greater people-to-people contact to pave the way for friendly relations". She said the survey results revealed that despite a history of conflict, mistrust and estranged relationship, an overwhelming number of Pakistanis and Indians wanted peace and friendship between their countries. On the second day, a closed session of politicians from both countries was held.
Malini Mehra terms the event a success which demonstrated that there is no shortage of willingness to work together on issues of common interest.
"One of the clear outcomes of the conference is that we need to promote professional, policy and community cooperation on a range of issues that climate change covers," explained Mehra. She thinks they can start by looking at the provincial level and starting information exchange and practical cooperation. For this, YGL is planning to start with Punjab-to-Punjab cooperation, looking at the climate change and disaster risk reduction policies that both provinces are now being required to embark upon. "This will provide a practical framework within which to engage professionals and academics from both sides as well as policymakers and community leaders. We already have a number of ideas and look forward to putting them into practice in the coming weeks. The Lahore conference has generated an immense amount of enthusiasm and this initiative will be unstoppable," she concludes.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
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