Pakistan’s Climate Activists are Building Local Resilience After Flood  
Pakistan flood relief 2022
Pakistan’s flood-affected families receiving relief packages from RFI. 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Shujaat Ali Khan’s community in the Swat valley of Pakistan was devastated by recent flash floods, leaving thousands displaced and destroying infrastructure and crops. 

“Land in the area was completely destroyed and the community needed urgent support,” said Khan, who wanted to help his community.

He found that climate activists from the social enterprise organisation, Resilient Future International (RFI), were more responsive than the government.

“We managed food package deliveries at micro-level to the flood-affected farmers in Swat with the collaboration of RFI to help people in this difficult time,” said Khan.

In early 2022, a report from the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), described Pakistan as a climate hotspot, in the top ten climate-impacted countries in the world.

“In South Asia, extreme climatic conditions are threatening food security; thus, agro-based economies, such as those of India and Pakistan, are the most vulnerable to climate change,” the report said.

A few months later, the report’s words were borne out by floods that killed some 1400 people  and left about one-third of the country’s land under water, affecting about 33 million people from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the far north to Baluchistan, Punjab, and Sindh province in the far south.

Last week at the COP27 climate change talks in Egypt, Pakistan´s Prime Minister, Muhammed Shehbaz Sharif, made an urgent appeal for loss and damage funds to assist his country to recover from the August floods, pointing out that Pakistan had a tiny carbon footprint but was suffering from emissions from wealthy countries.

“Estimated damage and loss have exceeded $30 billion and this is despite our very low carbon footprint. We became a victim of something with which we had nothing to do,” said Sharif, speaking about the August flooding.

Government unprepared

Pakistan’s government was unprepared for the scale of the flood, and NGOs and social enterprises have stepped into the vacuum. 

In the case of RFI, supporting immediate disaster relief is also a means of raising more awareness about the risks of climate change and the benefits of early action. 

The RFI was founded in October 2017 by Aftab Alam Khan, who has over 20 years’ experience in developing climate resilient and people-centric solutions in Asia, Africa, Latin America. 

Khan, a graduate from the University of Wales Swansea in the United Kingdom, has advised the governments of Pakistan, Indonesia, South Africa, as well as the G-20 and G-77 on sustainable and pro-poor policies.

RFI provides research, training and consultancy services on climate-resilient, people-centric solutions. Khan is also currently designing two academic courses on tackling climate change.

In an interview with Health Policy Watch, Khan said his enterprise aims to develop the capacity of the communities, media, and entrepreneurs to face the challenges of climate change through initiatives in research, training, monitoring and evaluation. 

 “I have worked globally on climate resilience for the past 20 years, but I realized that limited or no work on crucial areas needed for climate resilient future in Pakistan has been done,” he said.

A major focus, he adds, is building youth capacity, including the integration of climate change into the university curriculum through short courses, internships, and online sessions – as well as media engagement. 

Building local networks

During the flood emergency, however, RFI also swung into action, mobilizing its platform and student network to respond to the most immediate needs of the crisis – the distribution of relief packages of food and other essential goods.

The RFI provided relief support in Swat with TechMark Agro Volunteers and extended its support to local activists in fundraising and connecting national and international relief organizations with potential fundraising opportunities.

While many organizations were focused on distributing mosquito repellents to flood-affected people, RFI provided early and indigenous solutions and suggested local people also use inexpensive local herbal oil to save them from mosquito bites. 

And at the same time, says Khan, RFI used its platform to assist local activists on how to highlight their local needs and issues.

He said RFI has brought climate to a practical level by various means by promoting climate resilient agriculture, mentoring youth on importance of learning, conducting research about climate challenges, and also training journalists to play role in building mass awareness on climate issues and the like.

Flood Affected farmers of Swat, Khyber Pakthunkhwa describing their damages to standing crops to relief activists

Fostering student climate research  

Over the past five years, the organization has also helped students to frame and develop research on local climate-related issues that have been understudied until now. 

Lahore environmental sciences student Meharwar Uppal says that she got inspiration and guidance from the RFI website, which offers Urdu translations of the IPCC findings as well as analyses of the government’s National Climate Change Policy.

Uppal says that this helped her shape her final year research project on heat waves in Pakistan at Lahore College Women’s University.

Despite such efforts, there is still a long way to go before Pakistani educators and decision-makers become more engaged in the climate challenge, says Khan. 

Too many leaders and top officials in education and government prefer to stick to their day-to-day routine, rather than taking on more strategic challenges in an area that still seems futuristic to many.  

“I hope the current floods will change that trend,” said Khan.

In the wake of the 2022 floods, RFI is launching a series of seminars with university students, which it aims to lead to the drafting of a public letter to the planned UNFCCC Loss and Damage Finance Facility, demanding aid. 

Dr Iqra Ashfaq, RFI’s youth ambassador, said that she didn’t realize the importance of climate change until she joined the organization.  

“I learned what climate change actually is and the impacts it’s causing on our planet. I learned how climate change is a whole cycle of events initiated and accelerated due to our actions and behavior,” said Iqra, who recently qualified as a medical doctor.

She said engagement with climate resilient organizations is helping youth to learn the magnitude of effects caused by excessive carbon emissions into the atmosphere and what are the ways by which such effects could be managed and tackled through mitigation and adaption.

“After realizing the seriousness of climate threat, I am looking forward to conduct research correlating climate change and health care in order to find out solutions for common people,” said Ashfaq.

Image Credits: Resilient Future International.

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