Climate change, abnormal weather patterns, global warming, water scarcity. Terms that just a few decades ago would have seemed like the creations of a sci-fi writer conjuring a new kind of apocalypse to end the human race. In 2023, climate change is that gigantic reality of a world inhabited by almost 7.8 billion humans that does not elicit the right kind of response despite its immediate and long-term repercussions. As human beings make journeys to Mars and technology facilitates and connects the world in incredible ways, the very essence of their lives is in continuous depletion. All forms of life are affected. If the Earth becomes uninhabitable, the entire edifice of the manmade world will cease to exist.
Much is being done, much needs to be done. Climate change, albeit varying in its effect on different parts of the world, is a global challenge and a collective responsibility. With severity in natural catastrophes and increased temperatures and droughts, developing countries are the bigger victim of climate effected crises that they contribute little or nothing to effect or exacerbate. Pakistan is no exception.
BBC reported in September 2022 as Pakistan was reeling from one of its history’s most devastating floods: “Pakistan contributes less than 1% of the global greenhouse gases that warm our planet, but its geography makes it extremely vulnerable to climate change.”
Cohosted by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Republic of Tajikistan, the UN 2023 Water Conference held in New York on March 22-24, received “a breakthrough response to the global water crisis, with governments, businesses and civil society committing billions of dollars to advance the water agenda, a dealmaker for accelerating sustainable development overall.”
Farwa Aamer is a “Research Analyst with the Stimson Center’s Energy, Water, & Sustainability program. Her research and expertise focus on the security, political, and socio-economic dimensions of transboundary water governance in the Himalayan region. Farwa leads and convenes Track II dialogues and discussions designed to facilitate greater inter-and intra-regional cooperation on issues around water security and hydro-diplomacy in South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East. Farwa also leads research on the disproportionate impacts of climate change and water insecurity on women and other gender groups.
Prior to joining the Stimson Center, Farwa served as the Director of South Asia program at the EastWest Institute (EWI)—a global think tank headquartered in New York. At EWI, Farwa worked on promoting non-traditional channels of diplomacy and establishing multi-stakeholder platforms for shared economic, financial, and geopolitical interests by bringing together policy shapers, media influencers, thought leaders, and business experts from within South Asia and across the globe.”
In the backdrop of her comprehensive body of work, Farwa’s evaluation of the global water crisis in the context of Pakistan’s water scarcity and its micro and macro effects on the lives of people and the economy, is invaluable to understand the enormity of the situation.
For Gulf News, I asked Farwa Aamer a few questions:
Developing countries struggle with the issues of water management and resources because of the unavailability of water engineers, scientists, hydrologists, geohydrologists, and resource economists. Is it possible for these countries to meet the targets critical to SDG 6 by 2030—ensuring access to water and sanitation for all?
It is possible for developing countries to meet the targets critical to SDG 6 by 2030, but it will require significant efforts and investments in the water sector along with a proactive dedication, often backed by political will, to reinvigorating the existing water management and governance systems. Investments in technology and capacity-building—think economically feasible water treatment technologies, rainwater harvesting systems, and efficient irrigation methods, which are all pathways that can lead to a more resilient and adaptive framework.
Also, greater attention is required toward raising awareness, providing educational and training programmes—on grass-root community levels or through partnerships with universities and research institutions—to provide practical skills and technical know-how for aspiring water professionals in any sector. These efforts will need government support and hopefully, greater private sector and donor community involvement.
There are also development agencies and the likes of World Bank that are keen to work with water-stressed countries to provide financial assistance, technical expertise, and knowledge sharing.
As we embark on that journey of capacity-building, we must also recognize women and marginalized groups who are on the front lines of water-stress and climate change. They have such unique perspectives that can be extremely advantageous to the future of climate and water policy discourse.
The current rate of climate change and the ways human beings affect earth’s biodiversity and water resources are only increasing and impacting cross-continental economies and environment. How has this critical issue been addressed in the UN 2023 Water Conference?
I can only speak from the perspective of my participation and observation. The UN 2023 Water Conference recognized the urgent need to address the impacts of climate change and growing water insecurity worldwide. The Conference brought together policy shapers, civil society organizations, business leaders, academics, youth, the UN System, and other stakeholders, from all across the globe, to collectively identify means to get the world on track to meet Sustainable Development Goal 6, water and sanitation for all by 2030, which was a welcome development.
So of course, during a number of dialogues and discussions, water-related risks, impacts, and vulnerabilities were proactively addressed. There are strong interlinkages that have to be considered, and there is enough research to support how climate change, in addition to human interventions, has altered marine, terrestrial, and freshwater ecosystems around the world.
Last year’s COP also underscored how climate crisis and biodiversity crisis should be looked at the same wavelength and not separate issue areas. Whether it’s through conversations at the UN or other platforms, we must emphasize the need for integrated and adaptive water resources management as well as increased investment in climate-resilient water infrastructure to address the complex and interconnected challenges posed by climate change and biodiversity loss.
In terms of multilateral agreements and frameworks out there, there is the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which are perhaps the two most important environmental conventions for biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation.
What is your assessment of Pakistan’s water crisis?
For an agrarian country like Pakistan, water sustains the lives and livelihoods of millions and the dwindling water supplies means that Pakistan is and will continue to grapple with an acute water crisis.
Climate change, receding glaciers, low river flows, and changing precipitation patterns are the usual suspects. Water and climate threats have, unfortunately, not received enough priority and threats—this needs to change! There has to be better management, planning, investments, and innovation to start building greater climate resilience within the country and securing the depleting water resources.