Pakistan’s Big Threat: Climate Change

by Fr. Liam O’Callahan, SSC
JPIC/Interfaith Dialogue Coordinator for the Columbans in Pakistan

In March 2016 an article in Foreign Policy by Sualiha Nazar entitled “Pakistan’s big threat isn’t terrorism — it is climate change” captures succinctly the big issue facing Pakistan’s 200 million people, namely climate change and its looming consequences, but which is largely ignored across political, economic, social and religious life in Pakistan.

Although Pakistan has contributed very little in relative terms to the build-up of greenhouse gases, the main cause of global warming and climate change, it is suffering disproportionately from the consequences of climate change and is numbered among the world’s top ten countries who are most affected by it.

Since 2010 there have been catastrophic floods during the monsoon season, due to increased rainfall and melting glaciers in the Himalayas, displacing millions of people and causing billions worth of economic loss.

In the south, the That desert, where some Columban missionaries work, and Baluchistan have suffered severe drought, which is crippling agriculture and the economy there. Temperatures are increasing year on year; in July 2015, the hottest year the planet has known since records began in 1880 (NASA), an estimated 2,000 died in Karachi from the effects of a heat wave. Water scarcity is already a problem in many places, such as Karachi, and is projected to become much more of a problem in the coming years. Unsafe drinking water is at crisis point due to pollution and according to Jehangir Shah, a senior scientific officer at the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research Laboratories Complex, 80% of all illness and 40% of all deaths in Pakistan result from it.

Into this reality, the launch of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, in June 2015 came like a breath of fresh air and was warmly acclaimed and welcomed across the scientific, non-government office (NGO), religious and interfaith worlds.

Local churches can now no longer ignore this issue as Pope Francis challenges us to an “ecological conversion” and to see it as our spiritual responsibility to protect the environment. Laudato Si’ has been instrumental in helping other religions to come to the vision too. In Pakistan, the Columbans jointly sponsored the translation of Laudato Si’ into Urdu and later an abridged version was also translated to be used in parishes and schools.

Around the time of Nazar’s article, Bishop Samson Shukardin of Hyderabad diocese appointed me as coordinator of the newly-established ecology commission of the diocese. Since then, Columban co-worker, Danish Yakoob, and myself have visited many schools and parishes giving workshops on climate change, pollution and water as well as introducing Laudato Si’ . Whether in urban or rural areas, the lives of ordinary people are severely affected by these issues and will continue to be unless major changes take place.

We produce materials and liturgies to be sent to parishes and schools for major environmental international days — Water day, Earth day, and Environment day — and are identifying interested people and plan to offer then training in order to be active in their local areas. Tree planting is becoming a feature of some parishes and schools.

An area we plan to work on this coming year is to work on these issues from an interfaith perspective, linking up with Muslims and Hindus in other groups and NGOs who are involved in these issues, particularly safe drinking water and climate change. This is following the lead of Pope Francis who reminds us we are all brothers and sisters in our “Common home” — Planet Earth.