May 13, 2010

Climate connectivity

The melting of the Himalayan glaciers is a phenomenon that clearly deserves greater study and closer monitoring

By Waqar Mustafa

More than 130 journalists from all eight member countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) had gathered in Paro -- a town and seat of Paro District in the Paro Valley -- for the SAARC Journalists Summit-V arranged by South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) in last week of April to discuss the effects of climate change on the region and how media can help mitigate them.

Customarily, the SAFMA's Journalists Summit precedes the SAARC Summit. Having held the previous gatherings before the SAARC Summits in Islamabad, Dhaka, New Delhi and Colombo, South Asian Free Media Association arranged the fifth such conference two days before the 16th SAARC Summit in Bhutan which was held on April 28 and 29.

Titled, Environment and South Asia, the SAFMA's Journalists Summit-V featured papers by Syed Iqbal Hasnain, a glaciologist and consultant at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi, India and Khaled Ahmed, Director of South Asian Media School.

Ten delegates from Afghanistan, 13 from Bangladesh, 15 from India, seven from the Maldives, 12 from Nepal, 20 from Pakistan, 10 from Sri Lanka and 30 from the host country Bhutan participated in the conference which had sessions on Environment: A Looming Threat on South Asia and Connectivity and Information.

In a speech that received a standing ovation from around 120 journalists and media personnel from the eight SAARC countries, Bhutan's Prime Minister Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y Thinley, the chief guest for the opening of the fifth SAARC journalists' summit, urged the media to play a responsible role in helping society to promote the right values that contribute to the happiness and well being of society.

Talking about the growing global environmental concerns, Thinley said South Asia must take a lead in reversing climate change. He said the environment was suffering because "developments, particularly in the past century, have not advanced human civilisation or refined human behaviour. Instead, developments are driven by a raging greed and an excessive desire to consume."

While highlighting the objectives of the fifth journalists' summit, SAFMA Secretary General Imtiaz Alam demanded that SAARC:

Ensure an easy and unrestricted visa regime for journalists and for the people at large, for free movement of media persons across South Asia.

Lift all barriers on free flow of information, newspapers, magazines, books, radio and TV channels and other electronic productions. Remove all bottlenecks in postal and telecommunication services and allow a South Asian information highway.

Help SAFMA create a South Asian News Agency and SAARC Audio Visual Exchange (SAVE) Program.

Recognize SAFMA as SAARC's Regional Media Forum and grant SAFMA the status of SAARC's Apex Body.

Help SAFMA organize South Asian Documentary Festivals for SAARC with the support of member countries.

Recognize South Asian Media School as an affiliate of SAARC in media training.

Recognise the South Asian Media Centre in Lahore as SAARC's Media Centre and allocate funds for the creation of A South Asian Media Endowment Fund either out of SAARC Development Fund or SAARC or with the contribution from member/observer countries of SAARC.

Syed Iqbal Hasnain, a glaciologist and consultant at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi, India, in his paper said: "the melting of the Himalayan glaciers is a phenomenon that clearly deserves greater study and closer monitoring, but the existing reality of deglaciation is already having downstream impacts. The first and most obvious concern with deglaciation is the threat of diminishing water flows to the hundreds of millions of the people in the downstream regions of India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and China. The countries in the region are facing a wide variety of potentially massive threats as a result of glacial melting and related climate changes. Millions of South Asians hope this would be the main driver of cooperation in the 21st century."

Khaled Ahmed, Director of South Asian Media School, said: "SAARC is agreed that cultural events should take place regularly across borders, but hostile relations and visa-regime constraints stand in the way. In consequence, that ultimate solvent, the people-to-people contact, is not allowed to work, postponing the moment of psychological disarmament. That is why cross-border trade must open, trade routes and trade corridors must be established, and security must be linked to "integration" of the economies rather than "separation" of the nation-states. There was a time when "antiroutes" served the purpose of states wanting to be left alone; today the states require routes for survival and avoidance of conflict."

The fifth SAARC journalists' summit called for media professionals in the eight SAARC countries to raise public awareness of the immediate threats of climate change, a prerequisite to mitigating its negative impacts on life.

A declaration issued at the end of the two-day summit noted with concern that the Himalayan glaciers' were retreating at an alarming rate over the past few decades, the rising sea levels, which might submerge Maldives, and 20 percent of low-lying areas of Bangladesh may be submerged by the Bay of Bengal, displacing 25 million people.

The declaration demanded that the governments:

1. Give due consideration to the concerns of the most vulnerable communities and countries and the minimum standards advocated by them.

2. Recognise that women can be proactive agents of change and that their representation in the climate change debate has been marginal. Women's representation and role need to be proactively enhanced in formulating policies and mitigation strategies;

3. Remain cognizant of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and the need to take nationally appropriate mitigation measures;

4. Allow free movement of media people and products for a dedicated collaboration among the media of the region to share and disseminate climate change information that incorporates both regional and local perspectives to encourage individuals and policy-makers to undertake timely action;

5. Raise a unified voice for multi-lateral and Official Development Aid (ODA) that allows countries to adopt country-specific, gender-sensitive adaptation strategies to mitigate climate change.

6. Recognise and support what are presently seen as alternate, traditional development models that they could provide many answers to climate change challenges;

7. Move towards a low-carbon economy through the support of developed countries in terms of grants and technology transfer and encourage sharing of indigenous skills among developing countries.

8. Ensure that the policies and programs of international funding bodies fully appreciate the gravity of climate change and are climate-sensitive.

9. Take national, regional and collective measures to safeguard and conserve our glaciers, water resources, eco systems and overall environment;

10. Of nuclear weapon states in the region to develop a comprehensive mechanism and strategic understanding to prevent accidental, or otherwise, use of nuclear weapons, stabilise nuclear regime and avoid conflicts;

11. Recognize the impact of deforestation and forest degradation in climate change and greenhouse gas emissions and take pro-active steps to ensure that positive incentives must be introduced to save forests.

On April 28, Regional Executive Bodies of SAFMA, South Asia Media Commission, South Asian Women in Media firmed up the working plans and budgets for the next three years.

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