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Political Play
Zulfiqar Shah
Changing climate poses threat of major conflicts within Pakistan 24 August, 2012
The impact of changing climate in Pakistan exhibits symptoms of increase in the number of extremists' sanctuaries, wars between Sindh and Punjab, mass migrations, rise in urban violence and vote-bank loss for liberal parties.

PAKISTAN IS tossing between floods and droughts. The ecological and socio-economic catastrophe has turned the country, especially Sindh province into a microcosm of global climate change. Accompanying social metabolism, massive displacements and the worst humanitarian crisis, the scenario offers a new conflict paradigm in the violence-hit country.

Sindh is undergoing a social upheaval, not just the change. Northern Sindh once again after ninety years had the highest temperature of the Asia, 53.5 °C recorded on May 26, 2010; which earlier was recorded at 52.8 °C on June 12, 1919.

The land of lower Indus river basin has an average temperature of 46 °C and 2 °C, with dry weather of an average 7 inches rain. Indus floods were a great source of agriculture economy in the rain deficit province but commissioning of dams and construction of water diversion canals in Punjab province has left Sindh water scarce during last two decades. Heavy rain and floods in 2010 -11 were exceptions.

The cultivation patterns have changed over the last three decades featuring a month-long delay in the crop cycle; weather extremes; squeezed autumns and springs; and erratic as well as unpredictable rainfall patterns. Almost 30% to 50 % yield decline due to an average 40% water table decline combined with 40% to 60% increase in the use of fertilizers and pesticides has devastated economy of the province. Besides, the decline in grass vegetation and thus in livestock has served not only a severe blow to the economy but to the traditional nutrition and dietary as well.

Biodiversity threats have challenged ecological balance, economical and agronomic fabric, and folk culture. In coastal Sindh, the excessive appearance of vipers and other serpents predicted flooding a few decades ago indicating communities to take precaution. Communities cannot predict anymore.

Oil rich coastal district Badin is one example. According to 1970-2000 data of Sindh Government, cultivatable land in the district decreased by one thousand hectares during 1997-98 marking 0.23 decline in per person cultivation ratio in two decades. The inland fish production marked a decline of 9.3% by 1997. The forest output value decreased by 38.6% and the loss valued at millions of dollars. The economic value of loss due to sea intrusion in the Indus Delta estimated by the experts is $ 120 million yearly.

Migration toward urban areas is increasing because of flood disasters in last two years, and will further increase if drought hits this year again. A major social transformation in rural Sindh with increasing migrations is unavoidable during the ongoing decade, which may further destabilize the feudal power bases in the province. This will eventually threaten the vote bank of popular political parties like Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League – Functional (PML - F). Meanwhile, the emerging ethnic Sindhi trader, salaried and semi-urban middle class have posed threats to the vote cordon as well as street dominance of Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Karachi, which may translate into the rise in the urban violence.

If these climate change patterns keep exhibiting the floods and droughts like situation, a humanitarian crisis of another kind will emerge. During last two years of flood disaster, a considerable number of IDP (internally displaced popoulation) youths from the north Sindh were reported to be recruited by the Taliban in lieu of remuneration for their families. Besides, various religious outfits including Jamat-ud-Dawa on the promise of ration and other humanitarian support converted nearly 1000 Dalit families in South Sindh, particularly in Badin district. If changing climate patterns create a drought like situation in Thar Desert in Sindh, more conversions and migration can be foreseen in the province.

As predicted by the climate change modulated predictions by IPCC, Punjab province will follow acute dryness in the upcoming decades, which eventually will increase the population pressure on Sindh and may give birth to the water wars and ethnic violence based on demographic securities and concerns between both of the provinces.

Coping with the climate change challenges, Pakistan needs to declare an environmental emergency. It also needs a visionary governance based on the long-term planning about agriculture, livestock, and fisheries; urbanization and rural development; institutional reorientation, and water as well as disaster management.

Essential would be the climate research in the fields of agriculture, irrigation, livestock, fisheries, and food security combined by the legislation for water, forest, agriculture, shores and coastline and environment at federal and provincial levels.

Government of Sindh needs to set up a scientific and research authority on climate change and researchers from across the world should be provided with the necessary trainings. A Center of Excellence in the Climate Change Studies at the University of Sindh would be the best serving initiatives. Climate Change should also be included as a learning unit in secondary textbooks.

The author is associated with The Institute for Social Movements, Pakistan. He can be reached at

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
About The Author
Zulfiqar Shah is a stateless activist, analyst, and researcher. Although he is a refugee, and living a life in exile, he is a born Sindhi and South Asian. Currently he lives in India.
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