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Challenges of climate change, health, and nutrition in Pakistan 2022-03-07

Monday, 2022, March 7
Prince Rahim Aga Khan addressed the conference remotely

Climate change and extreme weather events are contributing to a wide range of health and food security risks around the world. These threats are particularly severe in low- and middle-income countries like Pakistan that are often the least able to respond. This calls for urgent and proactive actions to meet the many challenges posed by climate change whilst achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 in Pakistan.

These views were expressed by experts and stakeholders speaking at a seminar on ‘Pakistan’s Challenges of Climate Change, Health, and Nutrition in the Context of Sustainable Development Goals: Strategies for Change’ organised by the Aga Khan University’s Institute for Global Health and Development, IGHD.

Pakistan ranks 154 out of 189 countries and territories on the Human Development Index 2020 and this reflects the country’s social vulnerability to disaster, with high poverty and malnutrition rates. There are wide disparities and many marginalised communities, with minority groups are at a particular disadvantage due to their socio-economic status, location and political circumstances.

Keynote speaker Professor Jeffrey Sachs, President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network spoke about the global network and extended support to the SDSN Pakistan​ hub being set up under the IGHD umbrella. He expressed serious concern about the impact of global conflicts on the progress of sustainable development and stressed on the need for an approach in which the best minds around the world are working together collaboratively to find common solutions to address the climate change crisis.

“In the midst of war and conflicts in the world, we are on a trajectory to breach 1.5 degrees Celsius limit in a decade, or even faster. In Pakistan, with deserts, water stress and heatwaves, this can be deadly,” he stated. Professor Sachs highlighted the six areas for Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Pakistan to cover: education for boys and girls; a public health system; decarbonisation of energy; sustainable agriculture and land use; robust urban infrastructure; and digital connectivity for all.

Increasingly extreme climate events, such as floods, prolonged heatwaves, and droughts, are having a particularly negative impact on the health, mental health and well-being of vulnerable and marginalized communities across Pakistan, including adolescents and women. This was addressed in the second keynote speech by Javed Jabbar, policy analyst and former senator.

He underscored the impact of Pakistan’s choices and its need to find a way forward where the country’s resilience and adaptability to calamities arising from climate change are concerned. “There is a dire need for structural reforms post the 18th Amendment, to ensure cohesion between the federal and provincial health systems, and especially the integration of population welfare department with health department,” he asserted.

​Strengthening vulnerable populations is key and Prince Rahim Aga Khan addressing the seminar via video, shed light on the Aga Khan Development Network’s co​​mmitment to groups in the regions it serves. “We build climate resilience by working with communities, alongside government, civil society and private sector so that in the face of climate change, people not only survive but also thrive,” he said.

Dr Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, Distinguished University Professor and Founding Director of the IGHD, underscored the need to develop capacity in Pakistan for coordinated action on climate change, health, and nutrition. He presented detailed data on climate change’s impact on agriculture and food security. “There is slow and subtle, yet definite impact of climate change, extreme weather events, and rise in temperatures on crop nutrient. Rise in temperature in Pakistan, particularly in the last decade has reduced the protein content and other micronutrients in wheat and rice,” he mentioned, while speaking about the link between climate change and the quality of crop production.

Dr Abid Suleri, Executive Director, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, shed light on the Sustainable Development Goals implementation during the pandemic. He stated that the countries with pre-existing social inequalities are most prone to social impact of COVID-19.

SDSN Pakistan can coordinate research and influence broad multisectoral national response. It provides an opportunity for research and policy institutions across the country, with interests in climate change, health and health-related SDGs to join efforts to accomplish the agenda by 2030.

Zakir Mahmood, Chairman, AKU’s Board of Trustees; Sulaiman Shahabuddin, President AKU; Dr Carl Amrhein, Provost and Vice President, Academics; and Dr Adil Haider, Professor and Dean, AKU Medical College, Pakistan also spoke at the event.

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