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Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan hit hard by climate change

Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan hit hard by climate change

As the final text for the Paris Agreement is pored over by the ministers in the high-level negotiation rooms, the side events are going strong with just two days remaining before the UN Climate Change Conference winds up. On Thursday evening, a non-governmental organisation called Ciqam from Chitral and Hunza gave a presentation on “Women Social Enterprise” at the Indigenous People’s Pavilion next to the Climate Generation Space outside the Le Bourget conference centre. A team of young women from Hunza and Chitral talked about their life journeys and how they became empowered through their NGO.

In the Brushaski dialect, Ciqam means wellbeing or prosperity. This project is part of the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCSP) and started in the Altit Fort in Karimabad where local women were trained to be surveyors, carpenters and plumbers when the 1000 years old fort was restored. It started off as a pilot project to help provide poor households with a means of generating a sustainable income. It proved to be so successful that today over 100 women are working in carpentry and surveying and have been trained as painters, polishers and mechanics in both Hunza and Mastuj in Chitral. They also work in hospitality, running a small café in the orchards of Altit Fort, which is visited by around 15,000 visitors each year.

According to Aqeela, who has come all the way from Altit to Paris with funding from the French Embassy in Islamabad, “This is a great exposure visit; we have come to another world. We have enjoyed being at COP21, as protecting the environment is also our goal. We want to reduce poverty and give opportunities to the girls in our region. We want to give them skills so they become economically empowered and can look after the environment. For example we only use locally grown timber called green wood in our projects in order to conserve our forests”. Ciqam is also planning to start a carpentry school, which they say will be extremely important for trade where men will also be given training.

Safiullah from the AKCSP who is accompanying the team of five women from Hunza and Chitral, explains “Climate change is going to hit us hard; the temperature will increase substantially in the mountains and as a result the glaciers will melt – this year the monsoon for the first time crossed into the Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountains and it rained heavily in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral causing many disasters. The people who were hit the most were women and children”. Ciqam is planning to organise sessions with youth at both the school and college level upon their return. They are also planning to work with local communities in increasing plantation and awareness about water conservation. They are also working on temporary shelters made of recyclable materials for displaced people.

According to Fareeda from Chitral, “We know the impacts of climate change first hand. Many areas of our district have been destroyed this year because of floods caused by climate change. We hope a good agreement comes out in Paris. We have learnt a lot and will go home and share with other people in our mountain region what we have learnt from COP21”.

The Paris agreement is due to be announced on Friday. There has still not been a breakthrough on the contentious issues that elude an agreement, but still everybody is clear that there will be an agreement.

According to Sunita Narain from the Centre for Science in New Delhi who feels that the rich countries have taken over the COP’s narrative: “I am beginning to understand why they are so confident… The fact is the Umbrella Group (led by the USA, Japan, Australia and other rich countries) has spurned all efforts to control their own runaway emissions. They have not contributed money. They have not contributed technology. They have not done anything to pay for a transition to clean energy in the developing world. Ironically, they want the transition to happen only in the developing world”.

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2015

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