By Reena Saeed Khan
With climate change a reality, communications systems have to be built to keep the people informed.
First the good news: while climate change poses serious threat to farmers in Pakistan due to increasing floods, droughts and erratic rainfall, a recent BBC survey on communicating the effects of climate change in Pakistan has found that farmers are surviving and adapting despite the crisis. This gives us all hope; the people of Pakistan are indeed resilient and with better diversity and variety in crops they can try to improve the efficiency of food crops.
The BBC’s Climate Asia Report, launched in Islamabad last week, explores the best ways to use the media to provide the information they need to respond to the people directly affected by their changing environment. Oxfam Novib hosted the event as they are currently conducting a global campaign called “GROW” which focuses on food and climate change and they will be carrying out this campaign in Pakistan for the next four years.
The BBC conducted more than 30,000 interviews across seven countries in Asia, including Pakistan, for this project and produced individual country reports. They interviewed experts, focus groups and community members (there were around 4,000 respondents in Pakistan). The Pakistan report, which is printed in English and Urdu and is also available online, can help both NGOs and the government to develop their own communications system to meet public needs.
According to Khadija Zaheer, from the team which presented the Climate Asia report, “Our survey found that in China and Pakistan people are taking the most action to respond to climate change (80pc in China and 67pc in Pakistan). They are doing this by changing livelihoods, changing jobs, changing diets and changing lifestyles.”
In China, the government is clearly making climate change a top priority and there are lots of government plans to help people, particularly farmers, while in Pakistan climate change is just not a priority for the current government. The National Climate Change Policy that was launched by the previous government in March 2013 has now been shelved while the federal ministry of climate change has been demoted to a division with large budget cuts.
The team surveyed the perceptions of those most affected by changing weather and environment, including farmers, fishing communities and slum dwellers. They found that people in Pakistan have little confidence in their government to act and most said that life has become worse in the last 10 years. “However, people still have faith in neighbourhood and local networks,” explained Khadija. “At least they can reach out to these institutions (only 9pc had faith in NGOs).”
People across Pakistan are now experiencing unpredictable rainfall, increased temperatures and changes in seasons. The report found that 72pc observed an increased rise in temperatures while 51pc observed a decrease in rains. “What interested us is what motivates people to take action. We found that 27pc said they are adapting, while 24pc said they are surviving, 10pc said they are actively struggling and 26pc said they were unaffected.”
Clearly those who are struggling need practical, relevant and targeted information while those who are adapting need information that is reliable and timely. This information can be communicated through TV dramas or mobile phone sms alerts since the survey found that 74pc of the people watch TV and 72pc use mobile phones in the country. “People need information about future impacts and on what they can do right now.” The media can play a positive role by highlighting the serious impacts of climate change and focusing on solutions so that people know what to do to adapt.
The study found that those communities that felt informed about their environment were best able to cope with shortages and extreme weather. According to Arif Jabbar, country director of Oxfam in Pakistan, “Climate change has impacted Pakistan’s rainwater, groundwater and glacial water … Transferred cropping information is becoming irrelevant. Weather patterns are changing and there is increased variability in terms of when to plant. Subsistence farmers have been severely impacted; one has to look at women, the landless and small farmers. We need to fill this knowledge gap.”
He pointed out that in Thailand, there is a link between the meteorology office and local farmers and Pakistan too could benefit by connecting farmers to existing knowledge (about changing weather patterns). There are also insurance schemes in many countries that protect farmers from drought. “We also need environment friendly policies by the government. The last four years of continuous flooding has had a long-term impact on farmers’ ability to produce food,” he added.
The current crisis in Tharpakar has highlighted the issue of food insecurity in the country — the local people just did not receive the minimum kilocalories they required leading to chronic hunger and the lack of medical care (only one hospital with a handful of doctors) made the situation much worse. As Jabbar pointed out, “Climate change is a very real threat to food production but it is within our power to ensure that everyone’s right to food is ensured. Urgent action is needed to build the resilience of the food system by helping farmers to adapt to the changing weather.”–Dawn