By: Zahra Niazi
With the yawning divide between the haves and have-nots becoming ever greater, climate change is adding yet another bullet to the weapon that has been hitting the have-nots the hardest. Often denoted as the “passive victims”, these are the poorest families who live in houses made up of kutcha (inexpensive material) and inhabit the low-lying areas, the hillsides or the nomadic deserts which are under fed by institutional services including but not limited to clean water and sanitation. And then there are their richer counterparts who live in areas far beyond the inundation zones facilitated by institutional services, and if at all affected by climate-induced disasters are privileged enough to divert the whole of the attention to their out of the ordinary inconveniences. This was seen especially during the latest monsoon floods when the ready-to-harvest fields in Punjab and KPK were being suffocated in water and the poorest communities were falling deeper into poverty but apparently the media hastily diverted attention to a tiny minority. While this tiny minority will now get off easy and become less vocalized on behalf of their poor counterparts, the underprivileged will be left to suffer with what is yet to manifest. The point being that while the rich have the privilege to make their voices heard, the poor silently long for it.
You allocate billions for adapting to climate change, you achieve the UN climate target 10 years prior to the deadline but why do we still suffer and die from its impacts?” asks the poor man
Also, what came to me as a surprise was a tweet expressing an ironic gratitude to the rulers for having made the rich and the poor to drown in the same flood water. Not that the rich deserve to suffer as the poor for no one deserves to suffer but I intend to only question the very notion that either explicitly or implicitly acquiesces to the misery of the underprivileged as an inevitable part and parcel of climate-induced hazards or titles them as the “passive or predestined victims” of any calamity.
For me then, climate change vulnerabilities need to be conceptualized as a synthesis of a set of issues from high sensitivity and exposure to a low adaptive capacity besides an intensification of the magnitude and speed of climate change. Whilst the latter factor is principally exogenous, the other dimensions of differential vulnerability are compounded or otherwise perpetuated by the inability to coerce or influence the institutional structures, the decisions that take place within them and subsequently access the climate adaptation and developmental services. In this context, the revelation of UN DESA may not come as a surprise that the ignorance of some flood-prone regions for developmental interventions in Punjab has now become institutionalized, causing the marginalized groups to become further susceptible and exposed. Similarly, another report on the irrigation system in Punjab revealed that the officials fear not bending the rules of water supply in the favor of politicians.
This then takes us to the idea that while we all have been indoctrinated to ascribe the blame on climate change as the only enemy figure, we tend not to question the very institutional structures that preclude the participation of the marginalized in the decision-making processes on matters that may directly affect them. This brings home the conclusion that achieving the UN climate goal is not going to be a fix until the elements of institutional marginalization which determine the degree of human insecurities consequent of climate change remain unaddressed.
“I am an active agent, allow me to be voiced and my miseries will be eased”, says the poor man.
The writer is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Development studies, She can be reached at [email protected]