Climate Change, Government Policy, Infectious Diseases, Water and Sanitation

Awaiting Death on a Heap Of Gold

~Written by Sarah Khalid Khan (Contact: sk_scarab@yahoo.com)

In the far southeastern part of Pakistan lies an arid region with a gruesome past of disease and death. Despite this, it is considered a goldmine for black gold, establishing the Thar Desert as the 6th largest reserve of coal in the world. These reserves are estimated at 175 billion tonnes spanning over an area of 9000 sq. km enough to provide the country with energy for centuries to come. Perception about the treasure that lies beneath the scorching sand of Thar brings into question the existence of labour directed towards harnessing the gauged energy. It is exasperating to witness the indifference of the authorities to improving the conditions using its coal reserves, but the deaths of hundreds to date as a result of malnutrition in an area which has the potential to sustain itself and the rest of the country as well, is alarming. 

The current scenario of drought emerged in 2013 and continues to prevail beyond any hope of reprieve, natural or otherwise. But this is not the first time the region of Tharparkar has seen such unforgiving conditions. Thar experienced the worst drought in its history from 1998-2002, which affected 1.2 million people, killed 127 people and 60% of the population migrated to irrigated land. The streak of drought did not end completely, albeit lessened, for Thar experienced a moderate drought in 2004/2005. Yet another drought came along in 2009/2010 followed by one of the worst floods in Pakistan’s history.

Current statistics report worse figures than the drought of 1998-2002. Government officials have confirmed the deaths of 159 men, 168 women and 726 children under 5. Over 3000 cattle have been reported dead. The number of affected individuals is an estimated 1.1 million. 175,000 people are projected to have migrated. The numbers continue to rise as the government attempts to alleviate the situation. Locals however fear that the worst is yet to come. With inadequate rainfall to sustain the flora and fauna, and the ground water level sinking, the steps taken by the government fall short. Massive relief projects focused on purifying the saline water have been planned but despite 375 Reverse Osmosis pumps being installed, only a handful have been reported to be operational due to a lack of trained manpower. As a result, efforts made towards relief for this region have not affected the escalating numbers of lives being lost every day.

Besides the obvious malnutrition cases, another major complication is the rise in water borne diseases. These prove to be the largest contributors to mortality apart from birth asphyxia, pneumonia and sepsis. Thar has been attributed to have the highest under-five mortality rate in Pakistan with 90-100 deaths per 1000 live births. These statistics are distressing, however, doctors maintain that the figures have not changed in three decades, stressing the need for establishing a permanent solution for the region instead of episodic interest in chronic issues.

The need of the hour demands sustainable long-term development rather than multiple short bursts of temporary relief projects for an area that is recognised as prone to drought-like conditions.


Latif A. Ray of light in Pakistan's drought-hit Thar desert (July 2015). BBC News Asia. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-31851835

Hashim A. Pakistan's Thar residents living on the edge (March 2014). Aljazeera. Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/03/pakistan-thar-residents-living-edge-2014315121120904102.html

Climate Change, Poverty, Economic Burden, Economic Development, Government Policy

Climate Change and Health, Part 2: Droughts, Food Insecurity and Culture

~Written by Joann Varickanickal (Contact: joann.varickanickal@gmail.com)

In my last blog post, I highlighted how climate change has impacted the frequency, severity and onset of floods, thus, have various impacts on the health and well-being of flood victims. In this blog, I will be discussing how food security will be impacted by climate change.

Overall, an increase in temperature would lead to a decrease in nutrient acquisition in crops and could disturb general nutrient cycling (St.Clair & Lynch, 2010). This would also cause an increase in the decomposition of soil organic matter, thus, reducing the fertility of soil and possibly impacting crop nutrition (St.Clair & Lynch, 2010).

"Representation of the 11 Signs of Climate Change." Source: A Students Guide to Global Climate Change, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Borana, Ethiopia is one region where droughts have been severe (Megersa et al., 2013). In this area, cattle ownership not only provides milk, an important part of the diet, but also indicates attaining the socio-cultural status set by the community. With an increase in temperatures, rangelands in this area have dried up. As there is less land for grazing, there has been a great loss in the number of cattle, and a reduction of milk produced by surviving cattle. This has led to negative health consequences as stunting has become more prevalent among children (Megersa et al., 2013). There has also been an increase in physical ailments among adults (Megersa et al., 2013). With this, 77 percent of households have claimed to be food insecure for over five months per year (Megersa et al., 2013).

As revealed in the above example, issues of food security can be closely associated with cultural norms, as diet is often influenced by the local tradition. Thus, when there is a decrease in what is considered to be a staple-food in the region, a diversification in diet can help alleviate food insecurity (Megersa, Markemann, Angassa, & Valle Zárate, 2013). However, adapting to dietary changes can be a difficult process, especially when diets are so deeply rooted in traditions (St.Clair & Lynch, 2010). Cultural norms also influence how vulnerable populations are impacted by food insecurity. For example, issues of food insecurity related to climate often leads to more issues for women and children because they are already lower on the “food hierarchy” (Watts et al., 2015).

The recent article on climate change and health published by the Lancet discussed many potential options for adaption (Watts et al., 2015). For example, efforts should be made to improve ecosystem management (Watts et al., 2015). Investments should also be made in agricultural research in order to increase food security for the long-term (Watts et al., 2015). Furthermore, early warning systems and food reserves also need to increase in order to potentially avoid issues of nutritional deficiencies (Watts et al., 2015).

As often, this issue is complicated, and there are several questions that can be asked. For example, how can policies be formed to alleviate the impacts on the most vulnerable populations? Furthermore, should those in high-resourced countries be concerned about how those in low-resource regions could be impacted by an increase in droughts? Or even how those living in developed countries could also be impacted by these droughts? 
Or is the problem maybe too far from home to be a concern in the first place?

Megersa, B., Markemann, A., Angassa, A., & Valle Zárate, A. (2013). The role of livestock diversification in ensuring household food security under a changing climate in Borana, Ethiopia. Food Security, 6(1), 15–28. doi:10.1007/s12571-013-0314-4

St.Clair, S. B., & Lynch, J. P. (2010). The opening of Pandora’s Box: climate change impacts on soil fertility and crop nutrition in developing countries. Plant and Soil, 335(1-2), 101–115. doi:10.1007/s11104-010-0328-z

Watts, N., Adger, W. N., Agnolucci, P., Blackstock, J., Byass, P., Cai, W., … Costello, A. (2015). Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health. The Lancet, 6736(15). doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60854-6