Climate Change Has Hit The Chaman Border Region, With Tragic Loss Of Lives And Property

Three decades of relentless drought have reshaped perceptions on water flow, with the younger generation, aged between 30 and 40, having never experienced heavy rains

Climate Change Has Hit The Chaman Border Region, With Tragic Loss Of Lives And Property

The closest town to the Durand Line remains Chaman, with a population of 466,218 people as of the 2023 census conducted by the Government of Pakistan. This historic passageway has served as a vital link to Afghanistan and, subsequently, Central Asian nations for centuries. The connections among the tribes residing on either side of the Durand Line transformed Chaman into a bustling repository of tales emanating from Afghanistan and what was once part of British India, now Pakistan, conveyed by travellers traversing the Bolan Pass to Kandahar and vice versa. 

Despite its arid climate, characterised by deserts and mountainous terrain, the weather remains capricious. Locals often designate Thursdays and Fridays as "heavy holy days," influenced by religious teachings imparted by clerics or passed down through generations.

Climatic shifts have exacerbated prolonged droughts, during which rain may elude the region for years, and fierce winds carry sandy dust from Kandahar towards Chaman. Elderly residents reminisce about the green slopes beyond Kozhak (pronounced Khojak in English) or Manza, once teeming with lush greenery ideal for grazing and sustaining livestock, providing natural sustenance for the populace. However, the passage of time has changed this. Alternative means of livelihood have emerged, prompting the felling of trees for fuel to combat harsh winters or for construction purposes. Nonetheless, vestiges of this former greenery endure near Shela Bagh, renowned for its lengthy railway tunnel, where certain tribes have safeguarded aging trees, viewing them as emblematic of life.

A patchwork of beliefs regarding climate change persists among the community. Three decades of relentless drought have reshaped perceptions regarding water flow, with the younger generation, aged between 30 and 40, having never experienced the deluge of heavy rains. Initial reports indicate extensive damage wrought by recent downpours, claiming 10 lives and injuring 15 individuals in Chaman alone. While the Provincial Disaster Management Authority of Balochistan has confirmed 15 fatalities, 10 injuries, and damage to 240 houses, local accounts suggest the toll of rain-induced disasters surpasses official estimates. Remote areas, disconnected from communication networks, often go unreported in the media, reflecting a pervasive scepticism regarding governmental efficacy in addressing the plight of affected communities.

The late arrival of rains this year, following a dry winter, caught many off guard. Yet, the implications of climate change, altering weather patterns worldwide, reverberate particularly harshly among communities lacking awareness of its implications.

Chaman’s urban sprawl is expanding with each passing decade. Formerly reliant on cross-border trade along the Durand Line, residents found ample sustenance for their families, leading to the proliferation of homes amidst the valleys, akin to towns cascading down the slopes of the Himalayan mountains, an extension of Kozhak (Khojak).

The torrential rains proved fatal for Muhammad Naeem, 35, a person with special needs who navigated with the aid of supporting sticks. His only son fell victim to the deluge. "I have three daughters, one son, and my son died in the rainwater," laments Naeem. "He was six years old, and the rushing waters claimed him, drowning him in a small rain-filled depression. We rushed him to the nearest medical facility, only to be informed of his demise."

Naeem was living on chance, a system whereby locals shoulder loads from Spin-Boldak to Chaman, embarking at dawn and completing their journey before sunrise. Thousands earned 1,000 PKR a day through this labour, including Naeem. However, he bemoans the six-month dry spell that has left him anxious about his future. Chaman's livelihood hinges largely on cross-border commerce, interpersonal exchanges, and the transit of international cargo to Central Asian nations.

Governmental oversight from Balochistan and local authorities has been lacking. Many residents have erected homes obstructing natural watercourses, often inundated during rainy seasons. Moreover, there is a dearth of awareness regarding the ramifications of climate change, particularly the hazards posed by flash floods. An age-old Pashto adage warns that water will find its way through buildings, even if delayed by a century. Despite this wisdom, Naeem's family, like many others, disregarded the folklore, residing in a house built alongside a water channel, a decision affirmed by his brother.

Muhammad Naeem's elder brother, Abdul Kabeer, aged 50, recounts their ordeal: "We live alongside the water channel (manda in Pashto). When Naeem's son fell into a small depression, we retrieved him after 10 minutes, but he had already succumbed on the spot. The deluge demolished our home's walls and swept away our possessions, yet no aid has reached us."

The populace remains ill-informed about water dynamics, as prolonged intervals without such heavy rains have left them unprepared for nature's onslaughts, a consequence of climate change. Consequently, lives and property are lost in these calamitous events.

Another family, en route from Quetta to Chaman for their son's engagement, faced tragedy. Asadullah, a Chaman resident, relays their harrowing tale: "Four perished when our car was swept away by the floodwaters. The driver, who miraculously survived, recounted being engulfed by the raging current in the midst of the waterway. We heard the cries of the children and rushed to witness the tragedy unfold."

"As we struggled to rescue those trapped inside, four lives were lost, while one child remains missing. Over 30 minutes elapsed before the car resurfaced," adds Asadullah.

Despite local leaders cognizant of climate impacts and advocating for proactive measures, widespread illiteracy impedes community preparedness. Ignorant of the nuances of weather patterns, agriculture, and climate change, the populace remains unmoved, facing recurrent droughts, earthquakes, floods, storms, and erratic temperature fluctuations.

Mir Ahmed Khan, a prominent social and political activist, reflects on past warnings unheeded: "Our late political leader and agriculture expert, Abdul Hameed Khan, cautioned our tribesmen in Toba Achakzai against overexploiting fossil water and excessive irrigation for apple orchards, foreseeing a future devoid of subterranean water resources."

Regrettably, locals derided his foresight, dismissing it as madness. Yet, when the drought struck in 1994, precipitating the demise of once-prosperous apple orchards, valued in millions of Pakistani rupees, his words echoed with bitter truth, laments Mir Ahmed Khan.

Concerns abound for the future, with no concrete governmental initiatives at the federal or provincial levels to educate, assist, support, or rehabilitate affected communities. Unless proactive measures are undertaken, these disasters will continue to wreak havoc with each passing weather anomaly.