Among the countries which are at the edge of environmental insecurity, Pakistan is among them. Challenged by multifaceted, and crippling, climatic matters of extreme weather and pollution, waste management and resource scarcity, water insecurity, and urbanization. The festering for these challenges for decades is expounding the security crisis for the state of Pakistan.
Traditionally, in Pakistani security discourse, we follow an orthodox approach toward security challenges. The word ‘security’ in the conservative Pakistani discourse refers to the traditional notions about security: nuclear stockpiles, missile defenses, conventional arms, and quantitative and qualitative strengths of the troops. However, the multifaceted security challenges of the 21st century require us to evolve our security thinking. From approaching security from the traditional prism, we need to expand our horizon of engagement with the notion of security and accommodate evolving strategic trends which include environmental security, cybersecurity, and information security, etc.
The focus of this opinion is environmental security which is one of the most critical security challenges of this century for the survival of the nation-states. Even countries like the Maldives confront an extinction-level crisis owing to growing sea-level due to melting glaciers which themselves result from increasing global temperatures.
Notwithstanding Pakistan’s absence from the major greenhouse gas emitters, the country is facing an acute environmental security crisis. Recently, Pakistan faced an intense heatwave and urban flooding. Climate change has impacted Pakistan enormously as the country faces severe water stresses, droughts, heavy flooding, and the crisis of food production which collectively disturbing the ecosystem of the country.
In recent decades, Pakistan witnessed extreme weather in terms of a heatwave, smog, extremity in temperatures. In 2015, Karachi experienced an extreme heatwave which leads to the tragic deaths of more than 1200 people because of dehydration and heatstroke as temperature raised to the extreme of almost 45 degrees Celsius. Correspondingly, in winters, the many cities of Punjab persistently experience smog which cripples economic activity and cause social and health issues. These severe weather changes in the ecosystem of the country besides leading to the tragic loss of lives and economics is also changing the threat spectrum of the country. It is reported that environmental-related deaths cumulatively are more than the deaths resulting from the conventional security threat of terrorism.
Owing to the extremity in temperature, Pakistan is experiencing an acute water crisis, as the country receives most of its water through rains and the glaciers in the northern areas. But due to climatic disturbance, glaciers are melting rapidly and Pakistan lacks a well-thought-out approach to store its water because of the significant absence of sufficient water reservoirs, resources, and expertise. Compounding the water crisis is the rising sea level which is making underground water in coastal areas saltier which cannot be consumed as drinking water thus leading to an increase in demand for water in these areas. The water delivery system of Pakistan is also outdated and requires an overhaul as during the process of delivery and distribution mass amount of water is wasted. This also serves as one of the crucial factors in acute water stress in the country. In the context of water, Pakistan experiences two-pronged issues: water management and climate change.
Further compounding this is the politicization of water crisis. There have been many debates and discussions in Pakistan at an inter-provincial level about the unfair distribution of water, and this issue is now being discussed at the inter-city level which is a tangible security concern for Pakistan as far as unity is concerned. In the past, there have been water-related issues at an inter-provincial level such as Kalabagh Dam, which has caused a great degree of disunity and differences among provinces as smaller provinces have opposed the project, stating this will cost them dependency to the largest-by-population province of Pakistan, Punjab, showing how water insecurity is becoming a critical national security issue.
Externally, the water insecurity pertains to the conflict with India as Pakistan is the lower riparian state so Pakistan extremely relies on India for its water needs. An initiative by the World Bank in 1960 lead to the signing of a treaty, known as the Indus Water Treaty (IWT), between both nations. The treaty is a water-distribution treaty between both countries. According to this treaty, both countries are given control of three main rivers each, but the breakup of this treaty could have deadly consequences not only for these two states but also for the region and global at a broader level as both countries have nuclear capabilities. Recently, both countries have shown concern regarding water security. Pakistan especially has raised concern over Indian violation of the treaty by constructing dams on the water that is released to Pakistan according to the treaty. Pakistan and India have fought four major wars in the past and water is a very sensitive and survival issue for both countries.
Food security is another important environment-related security crisis of Pakistan as the country is dependent on agricultural production which is directly connected to climate changes and water availability. Agricultural production is reduced due to primitive or outdated methods of production, pollution, and shortage of water, intense and untimely rains and floods, and urbanization, deforestation, etc. All these problems have damaged Pakistan`s agricultural production and if it continues then conditions like Africa could emerge in Pakistan which could cause civil unrest or internal conflicts in the future.
The situation of waste management is worst in Pakistan, another factor involved in environmental degradation, In Pakistan, roughly 20 million tons of solid waste is generated annually, with an annual growth rate of about 2.4 percent. Karachi, the metropolitan capital of the country, generates more than 9,000 tons of municipal waste daily. There are some established institutions of waste management but either they are incapable or unequipped. Another issue is of landfill sites due to extreme urbanization and population growth, hundreds of tons of waste are produced daily but there are not enough sites to settle that waste. Resultantly, either this waste is released in rivers, lakes, or sea or it is burnt in an open environment. In either case, it’s damaging the ecosystem.
Pakistan is the second most polluted country in the world, only behind Bangladesh. Pakistan is facing unique levels of pollution. Most of the industries in Pakistan do not follow the proper guidelines from government and international organizations and release their poisonous water into rivers and sea which harms the underwater species. Moreover, daily, poisonous gases are released into the air from industries, transport, and kilns. Pakistan mostly relies on fossil fuels for energy needs. To this end, it uses oil, gases, and coal which are harmful to the environment.
All these discussed factors are posing an immense environmental security threat for Pakistan both internally and externally. Internally, Pakistan is having inter-city and inter-provincial debates on various sectors which are causing disunity and dissent. Externally, Pakistan is threatened by neighboring countries especially from India related to water and climate change.
As adopted environmental policies lack foresight and are based on outdated notions regarding the interaction of security and environment, Pakistan needs to adopt a new set of the unified environmental security framework, enact relevant laws, ensure their implementation in all sectors to ensure the environment-friendly approach to the social and economic development of the country.
Failing to do so will have consequences for the national integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan as it will inspire territorial conflicts, civil unrest, and mass uprisings. Pakistan should also organize seminars, conferences, and workshops to create awareness about environmental threats and security and should engage people at different levels to start campaigns to create environmentally friendly activities, plantation activities and should seek international support to counter this issue both financial and technological.
Sumair Ayoob is a visiting faculty in the department of International Relations at the University of Karachi. He is also enrolled as an MPhil scholar of International Relations at the University of Karachi. His interests are international security and politics with a focus on changing facets of security, governance, and war.