Not far from that drowned village in Sindh is the city of Jacobabad, where temperatures in the summer run as high as 124 degrees Fahrenheit. It is the hottest city in Asia, if not the world. Jacobabad has long electricity blackouts. Its poor die as they toil in the fields.
Temperature increases have brought plague after plague in rural areas. This year has brought Pakistan the most devastating locust infestations in nearly 30 years. The insects destroyed entire harvests, causing the government to call a national emergency as winter crops were decimated, resulting in losses of $2.5 billion. The locusts descend like a haze, so thick that from a distance it looked like a soft pink fog. Because of heavy rains and cyclones, there has been unprecedented breeding of locusts in the United Arab Emirates. They traveled to us from the Arabian Peninsula.
This is a climate war between the large industrial superpowers, financial predators that have polluted and poisoned our planet for profit, and the poor, who have done the least damage but will pay all of the consequences. Pakistan is responsible for less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but its people will bear the burden of the world’s deadliest polluters. If nothing is done to mitigate global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Bank, 800 million people in South Asia will be at risk of amplified poverty, homelessness and hunger.
The World Bank has identified Karachi as one the planet’s climate hot spots. Temperatures across South Asia are estimated to rise by 3.9 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 30 years. Karachi is already struggling with poor road connectivity, dire educational facilities and limited market access. Its already pathetic public health system will plummet. The rich might buy generators for electricity, pay for water tanks and rely on expensive hospitals, but the poor will continue to be devastated.
Pakistan’s current government is speaking about climate change, but it is a conversation that has come too late, unaccompanied by serious action. In 1947, Pakistan was 33 percent forest. Today, we have tree cover of just about 4 percent, all because of deforestation. This destruction, largely caused by the illegal logging by timber mafias, has silted up our waterways and left us undefended against floods and storms.
The country can easily be whipped into hysteria over supposed religious infractions committed by minorities and can debate women’s modesty and honor inexhaustibly, but it has little attention for the ferocious and imminent dangers of climate change.
Karachi’s rainfall, like the rising temperatures, is a consequence of the raging climate war. We have sat by and watched how cities die: slowly. We didn’t watch closely enough when the villages sank and struggled. But it is clear now that this is how a planet burns, one fire at a time, one degree hotter until eventually all that remains will be the chalky bones of Karachi’s ancient saints, buried on disappeared cliffs.
Fatima Bhutto, an essayist and novelist from Pakistan, is the author, most recently, of the novel “The Runaways.”
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