Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Time for SAARC to combat global warming


- Kuldip Nayar


The news is that India spent more than Rs 44,000 crores on weapons in the last three years, but not a single paisa on combating global warming. Even the Rs 3,500 crores meant for afforestation have been lying unspent since 2004. I thought that the various reports warning India against the colossal dangers of global warming would have awakened New Delhi to think of measures to combat the menace. Apparently no.

The famous Sunderbans in West Bengal has lost 10 per cent of its area, as well as some rare species, to the rising water. On the other hand, experts in the West say that glaciers are melting, raising the surface of seas. Because new glaciers are not replacing the old ones, many rivers have less water than before.

Environmentalist Sunder Lal Bahuguna who has been living not far from the source of the Ganga, Gangotri, complains that during the last three decades he has seen the river shrinking over the years. It appears that this is the story all over the region comprising India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives which have found time to discuss everything under the sun, but never the environment, ecology or climate. Yet, these are the countries where global warming is affecting the environment the most.

The disappointing part is not the lack of knowledge, but the lack of interest. The worst may happen in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, but India’s coastal cities may suffer equally. Climate change may turn fertile lands in the region into deserts. It is estimated that 200 million people will be forced to leave their hearth and home to new places where the influx of a large number of people may create its own problems. Less rain or too much of it at certain places is a relatively recent phenomenon.

I recall Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asking the agriculture ministry to analyse the reasons behind disturbed rainfall cycles. But there was no follow-up. The examination never went beyond the collection of press clippings and Mrs Gandhi’s own statement. The Department of Environment was set up in 1981. It is lost in trivialities. Studies done in India, however, indicate that economic development has been halved by hazards like climate. This is true of Pakistan and Bangladesh as well. Their growth has also been curtailed by unpredictable natural factors.
One need not believe the World Wildlife Fund report which warned that humans would need to find two other earths in space to survive because the planet’s resources would be exhausted by 2050. Yet, immediate steps should be taken to save resources. Sometime ago, a Nobel laureate economist told me in Delhi that India’s problem would not be population, but water. This is true, because there is already a running battle between the states over the share of river water. Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan has revealed that the largest number of legal disputes pertains to water shortage. Punjab, Haryana. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are in constant litigation over water sharing. One hears shrill voices over the construction of the Kalabagh Dam from across the border.

Groundwater sources are also depleting in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Lucknow and Hyderabad. This is true of cities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as well. On top of it, trees are being cut indiscriminately in the region. For example, the Army has played havoc in Delhi by illegally building houses on the age-old ridge, cutting down hundreds of trees. As many as 30,000 trees are in the process of being uprooted in Lahore alone.

No doubt, we, the developing countries, are devoid of sensitivity over ecology. But strange is the attitude of the developed world, particularly the West, which has progressed at the expense of the poor nations. We are paying for their sins. Ugandan President Y. Museveni has aptly described the emission of gases by the developed countries as "an act of aggression" against the poor. "They have polluted for decades and we pay the price in lost landscapes and lost lives." Developed countries are also responsible for the gases concentrating in the atmosphere. This has been taking place cumulatively over the last 150 years, says Dr R.K. Pachuri, chairman of International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at Brussels. "Even today if you look at the per capita emission, China and India are nowhere near the developed countries."

It is, therefore, not surprising that the Security Council’s first meeting on global warming could take place only a few days ago. As expected, the United States was opposed to the very idea of the meeting. Russia’s opposition is understandable, but definitely not China’s. Maybe, the latter is behaving like a passenger travelling on a third class compartment, shutting out the others after getting in. Dr Pachuri has predicted dire consequences: 30 per cent species will be wiped out, 3.2 billion people will face water shortage and large-scale melting of the Himalayan glaciers will play havoc in the Gangetic plains. If the sea level increases by a mere one foot, it will endanger Mumbai and Kolkata as much as it would Karachi, Chittagong and Colombo.

Whatever the reservations of America, Russia and China — the strange bedfellows — the Security Council’s meeting on global warming turned out to be an impressive show. As many as 52 nations participated in it, apart from the Council members. A preponderant majority argued that climate change posed a clear threat to international security. The West, like the haves, does not understand that the have-nots may one day become desperate if the distance between the two is not spanned. This applies as much to trade as it does to agricultural products and ecology.
America has already spent around $600 billion on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Had it utilised one-third of it, $200 billion, to help the developing and underdeveloped countries adopt a low carbon economy, it would have changed the fate of millions of people in poor countries.

It is time the Saarc summit or countries in the region considered a strategy against global warming. An emergency meeting must be called, and India should take the initiative. But New Delhi is hardly active. Its silence is similar to its moribund attitude towards population explosion. The excesses committed during the Emergency stalled the birth control programme. The police reached the bedroom. Since then political parties have been afraid to even mention "birth control," lest they lose the vote as did the Congress in 1977. Pakistan and Bangladesh avoid even the phrase "family planning," because the fanatics there have linked it with religion.
Global warming is worse than the population explosion waiting to hit the region.

1 comment:

Utshab Pokhrel said...

The world is rapidly moving towards the destruction. Where there is existance of poverty in the large part of the world the more budget is investing in making weapons and necluears.

In the case of India, a huge numbers of people are suffering from malnutrition and etc deseases and compelled to live in the line of deep poverty, the country is giving more important to the making of huge weapons and investing more in external security. Where there is the more threats in inside the country from the poverty circle.

So, on the one side all the powerful countries are investing more and more in weapons and security and on the other side there is less caring in poverty aliemination and upolifting the living standard of the people towards equity. The future is clear that our world is moving fastly towards the destruction.