Drastic climate impacts and other demographic changes in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region call for building resilience of mountain communities and equipping them with smart technology and innovative solutions’. This was stated by speakers during a two-day international conference titled ‘Mountain Specific Innovative solutions for potential scaling-up in Pakistan’ jointly organized by WWF-Pakistan, Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP), International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and Pakistan Agriculture and Research Council (PARC) in Islamabad.
Speakers informed that over the past few decades, climate change has had drastic impacts on the HKH region, which is transforming as a result and risks related to natural hazards are becoming aggravated. The conference intended to highlight the growing impacts of climate change, threatening the safety, survival and resilience of mountain communities that call for an immediate and broader spectrum of climate change adaptation strategies and actions to be included in regional disaster risk reduction policies.
Fazal Abbas Maken, Secretary Ministry of National Food Security and Research, Government of Pakistan appreciated the efforts of WWF-Pakistan, AKRSP, ICIMOD and PARC in highlighting the emerging climate induced issues across Pakistan and setting a stage to share lessons learnt and discuss innovative solutions. Addressing the conference, he said that 29 per cent of people are already living below the poverty line in the country and in such a scenario climate change impacts are further aggravating the situation. He emphasized adopting an integrated, robust and sustainable approach in order to overcome climate induced vulnerabilities.
Dr. Ghulam Rasool, Director General, Pakistan Meteorological Department said that Pakistan is the seventh most vulnerable nation to the impacts of climate change. He further shared that Pakistan’s rivers are predominantly fed by the Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himalyan glaciers which now are receding due to climate change. Sharing climate trends of the northern areas, he said that during the last 115 years a 1.2 centigrade temperature increase has been observed there. He also warned that a further temperature increase is expected in the northern areas, which would possibly reduce water availability and crop yiels. He suggested that community based early warning systems and modernization of traditional water supply channels can help build resilience of the local people.
Rab Nawaz, Senior Director Programmes, WWF-Pakistan shared that there is a strong link between the changing dynamics of the Upper Indus Basin and Lower Indus Basin. Mangroves and other biodiversity in the Indus Delta and coastal belt of Sindh and Baluchistan is largely dependent on water sources and availability in the upper region. He also said that there is an urgent need for joint efforts by relevant organizations, and upscaling and out-scaling of successful initiatives.
Melad Ul Karim, Chief of Party Satpara Dam Project, AKRSP said that the organization initiated work in GB region in the early 1980s. It primarily focused on improving the living standards of the local people and so far has been successful on many fronts, especially in community organization and institutionalization. The program has improved income generation opportunities, increased literacy rate, enhanced skill development and community organizations at a local level. He also warned that flood damages to irrigation, infrastructure and farm land need to be addressed through joint efforts. He was of the view that CPEC presents many emerging economic opportunities for local communities and overall Pakistan.
Dr. Arun Bakhta Shrestha, Regional Programme Manager, River Basin Initiative and Dr. Surendra Raj Joshi, Programme Coordinator, Himalica, ICIMOD Nepal briefed partipants about ICIMOD regional programmes such as the Indus Basin Initiative, Hiaware and Himalica. Dr. Arun said that the Indus Basin has the largest contiguous irrigation system in the world and is also the food basket for millions of people in Pakistan. Although the communities dwelling in downstream areas mainly depend on upstream areas for their water supply, most people in the Upper Indus Basin also face similar challenges. He also shared that in order to address vulnerabilities and build resilience of mountain counties, ICIMOD in collaboration with the Disaster Management Authority, GB has taken a number of initiatives including piloting community based flood early warning systems in a number of places in GB which are benefiting communities during flash floods. Further, to increase the livelihood base of local communities, ICIMOD has provided innovative technology packages including solar-powered river water lifting and high efficiency drip irrigation systems that have resulted in high value orchards.
Saeed Abbas, Conservation Coordinator, Gilgit-Baltistan, WWF-Pakistan said that climate change is an emerging threat to life, livelihoods and ecosystems in mountains areas. Increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is more visible and more disastrous than in the past. Shedding light on a few climate-related events, he shared that around 300,000 people were affected by flash floods in July 2015. He warned that the impacts of climate change are likely to become more severe in mountain areas, hence disaster preparedness and climate adaptation measures should be a priority of the government and organizations working in the GB.
Panel discussions emphasized on the need for strengthening public-private and civil society partnerships, enhancing the role of the private sector to sustain goods and services, increase adaptive capacities and research collaboration. They urged that demand-driven initiatives need to be scaled up and that the government should own and also scale up successful pilot projects for the larger benefit of the local communities. During the concluding session, community participants also shared their life experiences and explained how trainings and innovative solutions catalysed change in their personal, family and communal lives.