Pakistan needs nature-based solutions for climate change adaptation, Hammad Naqi Khan

Pakistan needs nature-based solutions for climate change adaptation, Hammad Naqi Khan, CEO of WWF-Pakistan.

Hammad Naqi Khan is the CEO of WWF-Pakistan. He possesses more than 30 years of professional experience in climate change adaptation, sustainable agriculture with focus on improving farmer’s livelihood, market transformation and greening supply chain, food security, water management, resource mobilization and partnership building.

As Global Cotton Leader (Aug 2011 to July 2014) under WWF-International’s Market Transformation Initiative (MTI), Hammad has lead advocacy approaches, representing WWF in multilateral fora and other policy dialogues. Hammad is a member of Senior Executive Team (SET) for Asia Pacific Growth Strategy (APGS) and has also represented Asia Pacific in Network Executive Team (NET) of WWF-international since 2015 till July 2018. Hammad is non-official member Pakistan Climate Change Committee chaired by PM and also Fellow of Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Programme.

BR Research discussed with him to understand the aftermath of the catastrophic floods and the way forward. Following are the edited excerpts:

BRR: What was your initial impression when the floods first broke out in the manner that they did? Were you expecting them to be so catastrophic?

Hammad Naqi Khan: I had mixed feelings. The flood event was not as shocking, but its scale, intensity, and damage that ensued were unexpected. Of course, we have been facing general disasters and floods because of geography. We are situated in a floodplain area. But the scale of the catastrophe and not being able to prepare for it is what worries me.

How do you expect such a massive catastrophe? We rely on relevant government departments such as the Pakistan Meteorological Department. They gave a monsoon outlook in June, predicting that more than average precipitation was expected from July to September. The monsoon rainfall was expected to be above average over Punjab and Sindh, whereas slightly above normal was expected over the remaining parts. There was no mention of the province of Balochistan, which was the worst hit. These forecast systems are critical in preparing the provincial department, local government, etc.

Yes, I agree that the global North has played a significant role in the climate crisis. Pakistan’s share in global greenhouse emissions is less than one percent, but relying on them entirely for adequate climate finance is not fair. Where is our planning? Another excuse often given is the lack of sufficient data. Some investments have been made regarding this, but where are the necessary precautions; what use are the investments if the meteorological department is giving out forecasts of abnormal rains, and bodies like PDMA and NDMA are still unprepared?

BRR: Were the 2010 floods also a result of torrential monsoon rains?

HNK: There are some similarities and differences between the floods of 2010 and 2022. Firstly, floods have become a regular feature. Secondly, today everybody is talking about glacier melts. One of the highest glaciers in Pakistan would be more than 7,000 if one were to quantify them. However, this year, the difference is between the snow melting and the torrential rains. The 2010 floods saw flooding along the Indus River and its tributaries.

Along with riverine and hill-torrent this year, there was also a new dimension. Pakistan typically has about four to five spells during the monsoon season. In contrast, this year’s monsoon season saw eight spells, and they have repeatedly hit Sindh and Balochistan. Moreover, the two provinces saw five times more rain than the previous average. So flooding was not just limited to the riverine areas.

Lastly, the kind of heat wave the country has been experiencing is rather drastic. During May and early June, the country experienced the highest land temperatures in cities like Jacobabad and Sibbi. This is also evident from the frequency of forest fire incidents. So this has impacted Northern Pakistan, where there weren’t, so many rains as the glacier melted due to rising temperatures. This is a crucial example of a climate crisis. Pakistan is the first country to be experiencing it, but it certainly isn’t the last. Everybody needs to realize and acknowledge that.

BRR: One cannot prevent a natural calamity from occurring, but the devastating impact can be contained. Relevant institutions like PDMA and NDMA failed. What, in your opinion, should have been the short-term measures adopted?

HNK: The importance of early warning systems cannot be denied. But, understandably, early warning systems cannot always forecast or depict the on-ground situation. However, that is not to say that we should not have disaster measurement systems because floods have become a fairly regular phenomenon. We should know the hotspots, the impact of irrigation, the roles and responsibilities of each institution in the country, the identification of areas where you could settle the displaced people, etc. For kilometers and kilometers, one could see scores of women and children; many of them are losing their lives to various diseases due to a lack of facilities. Early warning systems can reduce this colossal damage.

BRR: Would you then consider it a humanitarian crisis?

HNK: It is a severe humanitarian crisis. The United Nations estimated the damage to the 2022 floods exceeded $30 billion. The affected people have lost everything, and entire villages and cities have been wiped out. As an organization, we work with about 250,000 farmers. All Balochistan’s farmers and most South Punjab farmers had lost everything, from homes to crops to livestock. In some regions of Punjab and KPK, the soil is such that the water vanishes in a short period. Balochistan experiences a similar situation, but the soil of Sindh has changed. Water-borne and related diseases like dengue, dysentery, cholera, polio, etc., have been highlighted by the World Health Organization (WHO). It was undoubtedly a public health emergency. There was also immense damage to infrastructure; entire roads and bridges disappeared, from electricity poles to hydropower projects. Mega development projects have also been severely hit. However, the next challenge is the rehabilitation and restoration of displaced people.

BRR: How long will the rehabilitation process take, in your opinion? Some people have estimated it will take months to years to settle the displaced population.

HNK: It depends on how active the role of the international community, donors, and the country’s friends is. Simultaneously, there is also a need to channel the obtained funds transparent and efficient. If we get good support, we can reduce this period, but if we don’t, it will take us years to rebuild the infrastructure and bring back the communities to the position they were in a few months ago.

BRR: This will most definitely affect the tourism sector as well.

HNK: Absolutely. As an environmentalist, our definition of tourism, particularly ecotourism or sustainable tourism, is flawed. The country is blessed with natural assets, and we should encourage people to visit and enjoy nature. At the same time, we must undertake proper land planning. And a glimpse of the devastation of building structures on rivers was seen during the recent floods.

BRR: What are some key takeaways or lessons from these floods, and to what extent would the existence of dams have prevented the damage?

HNK: There’s always one group that sees dams as the solution. The problem is that dams are not the only solution, not to forget that no donor agency will fund its construction, as we can see already with the case of the Diamer and Bhasha dams. But we do need to improve our storage capacities. Several exercises and studies have been funded by donors who have identified such places as wetlands and low-lying areas. But to say that dams alone would have prevented the colossal damage is incorrect. We need to look into storage capacities to get support for it. We can prioritize hotspots. As part of a collaboration project called Recharge Pakistan, we plan to demonstrate nature-based solutions and eco-based adaptations to reduce flood risks. The project will build Pakistan’s climate resilience and water security through cost-effective ecosystem-based adaptation.

Moreover, the link between the PMD and the early warning system of extreme weather is critical. But, first, it must be identified because severe weather does not just entail floods but also droughts. In either case, the same community suffers.

Also, there is a framework in the existing climate change policy that highlights the immediate, medium-term, and long-term plans. It talks about district-level climate change adaptation plans and implementations. It is necessary to ensure and prevent ill-planned and illegal development in areas like the North and the flood plains.

BRR: What are WWF’s plans for Pakistan? Especially for climate change adaptation in Pakistan.

HNK: We started relief operations for our affected coastal communities that host about 700 households. Apart from that, we are also looking at reconstruction when the situation clears up. I would emphasize a nature-based solution. Recharge Pakistan is submitting a big proposal. Recharge Pakistan will increase water storage and recharge through wetlands, floodplains, and hill-torrents management, promote climate-adapted community-based natural resource management and livelihoods, and forge a paradigm shift to scale up this approach. This project unifies several government entities in an unprecedented collaboration with WWF-Pakistan to effect nature-based solutions for crucial climate change adaptation in Pakistan. We also work with National Disaster and Risk Management Fund (NDRMF).

I want to add that every institution, department, and sector must come forward and play an active role. The corporate sector must also play its role because these issues and challenges manifest as business risks for them.

Originally published at Business Recorder