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Bushra Khaliq, CADTM Pakistan : “There are immense impacts of the climate changes on poor communities in Pakistan”
by Bushra Khaliq , Robin Delobel
6 February 2018

We asked a few questions to Bushra Khaliq during IIRE’s last Ecosocialist school session in Amsterdam. Bushra Khaliq has been a feminist activist and a member of CADTM Pakistan for years. She gave us insightful answers about this country which has a turbulent history, where close to 200 million people live and which borders Iran, Afghanistan, China, India and the Arabian sea.

Pakistan looks in political crisis in this moment, can you comment this situation?

To understand the current crisis in Pakistan we have to keep in mind the checkered political history of the country. As a matter of fact Pakistan has never been politically stable since its inception in 1947. During the last 70 years though the political forces has been making efforts to put the country on a democratic track, but unfortunately the military establishment never allowed the democracy to take its roots and managed to dismiss the democratic set ups. The military regimes ruled the country directly for 32 years and for rest of the period, it kept the democratic set ups under its thumb. As a result during the last three decades the democratic and progressive political parties were marginalized to large extent and the right wing, religious and extremist groups got stronger and stronger.

The current crisis can be seen as chronic sequence of this patchy democratic history. Some of our corrupt politicians also played their dirty role in damaging the political and democratic process. The latest crisis emerged in 2016, with the involvement of former PM Nawaz Sharif and his family in the Panama papers. The opposition led by Imran Khan, protested and demanded his resignation and took him to the court. The Apex Court found him guilty of corruption and removed him from premiership and disqualified him. He is now facing trial against the charges of corruption in the accountability court. However, his right-wing party PML-N is still ruling the country but its control and writ on the state affairs have been tainted.

Meanwhile the opposition parties, Particularly PTI of Imran Khan have been building up their pressure for early elections. On the other hand religious Islamist groups are also out to take streets against this injured govt. on the pretext of a controversial legislation. Recently they have been successful to bow down the govt. to accept its demands. The country’s law minister step down in return for an end to demonstrations that had brought violent clashes and paralyzed the Pakistani capital and other cities for weeks. The agreement was widely seen as capitulation by the government to religious extremists who command growing popularity in Pakistan.

As a result there is serious crisis of governance in the country. The PML-N govt. and its deposed leader Nawaz Sharif think that military and judiciary were busy hatching conspiracies against their government in the name of selective accountability. While general masses do favor the process of accountability from the top.

What is the debt situation? Medias talk about Pakistan as a good pupil of IMF...

Pakistan’s public debt situation is very precarious at this juncture. The latest IMF report says the country’s external debt was $79.2 billion by June 2017. It was $60.9 billion when the PML-N took the control of the government 4 years ago. A whopping amount of $35 billion loans has been added during the last four years. The debt to GDP ratio has gone up to around 70% and revenue to debt payment ratio is around 47%. The net reserves with State Bank of Pakistan have reduced to $12.5 billion, insufficient to cover import bill of three months. The government has no money to pay if private investors at the commercial banks demand their money back.

The foreign exchange reserves are decreasing by $1 billion every month and govt. has failed to raise taxes and expand the tax base to meet the expenditures. It is mad for borrowing from right and left, through issuance of bonds and from local banks. In fact it is bent upon shifting the burden on poor by raising the taxes on people mainly through indirect taxation. In this situation sooner or later the government will have to ask IMF for help, but it would be too late then, as the country would have sunk deeper into the financial quagmire.

What are the consequences already visible of climate change in Pakistan? And what are the risks for the future?

Climate change has rapidly increased in Pakistan, causing severe weather changes and exacerbating disasters. It has suffered the devastating impacts of natural disasters and climate change in the recent years, witnessing an earthquake in 2005 and heavy floods in 2010. According year 2017-climate index, Pakistan ranks seventh among the most adversely affected countries by climate change. It is also affecting agriculture, resulting in migration of farmers and others from rural to urban areas

In the past few decades the monsoon and snowfall patterns have changed due to a rise in temperature in Pakistan. The ratio and patterns of rainfall are decreasing resulting in drought and poor crop production. The monsoon has shifted toward the end of the season and the winter rains have shifted toward late February and March. Likewise, the snowfall season usually started in November and ended by December now extends through March.

In 2015, the heat waves in Karachi killed several hundred people. In the last few years, severe drought has been constantly hitting the desert of Tharparker causing drought conditions, several deaths of children and even forcing populations to migrate. Similarly, the population near the Indus delta, particularly the fishermen communities has witnessed large-scale migration due to sea-intrusion, coastal floods and rainfalls.

Quite recently, another climatic change observed was the smog (mixture of fog with pollution) prevailing over large areas, particularly urban areas of the Punjab. It causes major health risks for the urban populations. In this scenario, there may be serious implications in future for Pakistan like; more floods, droughts, low agriculture productions, increased poverty and hunger, climate induced migrations from rural to urban areas. The said factors may further lead to policy issues like, failure of governance, law and order problems etc.

It is responsibility of the state implement the National Climate Change Policy to create public awareness and ensure that climate change is mainstreamed in the vulnerable sectors of the economy, particularly agriculture and water sectors. At the same time, the govt. must also devise policies to address the issue of climate-induced migrations.

Can you explain why women are more impacted by the consequences of climate change?

There are immense impacts of the climate changes on poor communities in Pakistan. Particularly the communities dependent on natural resources and women living in poverty are most vulnerable to these climate changes. Agriculture is the most important sector with concentration of female labor. They are involved in a variety of farming activities; sowing, weeding, harvesting, live stock rearing, making of dung cakes, pump milk and vegetable farming etc. So, agriculture is major source of livelihood of majority of rural women.

Since the changing climate patterns are worst affecting the agriculture sector, causing direct adverse implications on the women folk, squeezing the livelihood hood options for them and their families. While a vast majority of women are engaged in agriculture related activities, when hit by the negative impact of climate change, women lose at the same time their livelihood means and their capacity to cope after a disaster. As a result of climate change, domestic chores such as collecting water and firewood become more burdensome and time consuming. As girls commonly assist their mothers in performing these tasks, there is less time left for school or any other economic activity.

Ms. Kaneez, the affected woman
Bushra Khaliq, district Muzaffer Garh Punjab

In Pakistan, women are already suffering disproportionately; as a consequence of climate change. Local environmentalists estimate that 70 per cent of the poor, who are far more vulnerable to environmental damage, are women. Therefore, women are more likely to be the unseen victims of climate change. We witnessed this phenomenon in past, when thousands of poor families had to flee from drought-hit areas of Tharparker-Sindh and Balochistan, the most backward province of Pakistan. Women and children were seen the most suffered sections.

Secondly, women have limited role in the public life with least alternatives/ skills for economic opportunities. A vast majority is illiterate; know nothing about their rights and lack necessary information. At the local level, women farmers believe there are hardly any institutions, which they can rely on for getting climate related information that can help them adapt their livelihoods decisions to the changing climate. Thirdly, despite acknowledging the importance of integrating gender issues into climate change processes most of the debate on climate change so far has been largely gender-blind, and the important role played by women in agriculture has seldom been given consideration in resource planning.

Bushra Khaliq

est membre du Comité international de la Marche Mondiale des Femmes, représentant l’Asie. Elle est également directrice exécutive de l’organisation féministe Les Femmes en Lutte pour l’Autonomisation [Women In Struggle for empowerment – WISE].

Robin Delobel

CADTM Belgique