Being better prepared for the next disaster

Floods and drought threaten the lives of millions of people in Pakistan. Better preparedness as well as social change could alleviate the situation.

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  • Text: Jan Berndorff
Saturn-ähnliches Dekortationsbild

Faisal Abbas

Professor Dr Faisal Abbas is an economist at the National University of Sciences & Technology in Islamabad, Pakistan. In 2017/18, he was a Georg Forster Research Fellow at the University of Göttingen. Faisal Abbas advises the government of Pakistan as a member of the Committee on Key Economic and Policy Issues as well as on the Health and Well-Being, Food and Agriculture Sector Committee.

Georg Forster Research Fellowship

The real, everyday meaning of climate change becomes drastically clear when Faisal Abbas talks about his native country, Pakistan. Within four months in 2022, extreme drought was followed by the worst flooding since records began. The flooding alone claimed more than 1,700 lives; eight million people lost their homes. Since then, agriculture, the source of income for almost half the population, has lain in ruins. Food prices have rocketed. “Within days they trebled or increased fivefold,” Faisal Abbas reports. The economist at the National University of Sciences & Technology in Islamabad continues, “For people who hardly have enough to live on in the first place, this has dramatic results. Many are starving.”

Through his research, Abbas wants to mitigate situations like this. He specialises in developmental topics such as food security, health, especially of mothers and children, as well as gender-specific oppression. “During my doctorate at the University of Bonn 15 years ago, it was the first time I experienced how well women do their jobs,” he reports. “In my native culture, I only knew that traditionally women didn’t go to work but stayed at home. That’s all changing now,” he says. “Today, you even come across more women at our universities than men. And many of them subsequently look for employment.”

When women can decide independently, they make much better decisions for the health of children.
Faisal Abbas, Economist and advisor of the government of Pakistan

The greater role of women also has an impact on food security, he notes. “When women can decide independently, they make much better decisions for the health of children,” says Abbas. Consequently, the shift in gender roles gives him hope in the fight against hunger but also against climate change, especially as women are increasingly represented in politics in Pakistan and help to shape it.

Good policies rely on good data

With a view to climate change, sustainability and food security, Abbas thinks the forthcoming challenges facing science are to advise politicians and the public on the basis of solid data. “Good policies have to be based on information and data. We must record reality as precisely as possible in order to achieve goals to improve public welfare, which should be the aim of every government.” One good example of this is civil protection in Germany from which countries like Pakistan could learn lessons: flood protection, for instance, though not always adequate, is at least clearly regulated. There are risk maps for endangered districts delineating the floodplains where building is prohibited. Flood insurance, which can mitigate the impact of a disaster, is still very rare in Pakistan, according to Abbas. It would also be possible to build more small dams in the upper reaches of rivers which would hold back the water, allowing it to be dosed and used for irrigation.

Learning from Germany

“We in the science and global community should share ideas far more and learn from one another,” Abbas believes. It greatly benefits climate adaptation, food security and environmental protection when institutions like the Humboldt Foundation enable researchers like him to conduct research in Germany. In his own case, a Georg Forster Research Fellowship and his doctorate in Germany had helped to lend weight to his voice in Pakistan. Today, Abbas fosters close contacts with the political arena as a member of various advisory committees. “In this country, too, politicians want to be re-elected, and it is hard to score with unpopular but necessary measures,” he reports. “But the more robust the scientific evidence, the greater the chance it’ll be heard.” 

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