People across Pakistan are now experiencing unpredictable rainfall, increased temperatures and changes in weather conditions. In 2012, the BBC’s Climate Asia Report on Pakistan found that “People need information about future impacts and on what they can do right now”. The media, they pointed out, could play a positive role by highlighting the serious impacts and focusing on solutions so that people know what to do to adapt their lifestyles. Rafia Saleem, a young writer from Multan who has been focusing on raising awareness about environmental degradation and protection since 1999, has made it her mission to inform communities about the perils of climate change and how they can adapt and survive. Having received several awards for her efforts, she recently began an environmental Urdu language radio show Sabz Khawab, initially funded by World Wildlife Fund -Pakistan&’s small grants programme and now supported by the Pakistan-US Alumni Network.
This is infotainment at its best and the show is slickly produced. Saleem not only introduces the theme of each show herself in her melodious voice but also plays interviews recorded in the field. For the segment on Lal Sunahra National Park in Bahawalpur, she interviews park and wildlife officials and their voices can be heard describing the various animals and steps taken for their welfare.
This is all the more remarkable given that she actually has another day job — she is not a professional radio or TV host but a chartered accountant who works in microfinance at the National Rural Support Programme office in Multan.
She developed an interest in the environment while still a student, even receiving a “Young Eco Hero Award” in this connection from an American non-governmental organisation called Action for Nature in 2003.
“I was always inspired by nature as a kid. As I grew up, I realised that my surroundings were not as clean and green as I imagined them to be in my childhood. From the day this realisation dawned upon me, I took up the pen and started advocating on environmental issues through my writings and activism. I spoke to kids and adults on pollution and wrote an eco booklet for kids, fought a public interest court case on garbage disposal and authored research papers”, she explains of her interest in this field.
One of the more interesting aspects of her show is the listeners’ feedback segment at the end of each show where she reads out messages from her audience in Southern Punjab. It is evident that the listeners are not only being informed about environmental protection and what they can do as individuals to safeguard trees and wildlife in their areas, but also enjoying her show immensely. “The programme has been received very well by the listeners. I now intend to take it to other provinces of Pakistan or on a national level depending upon funds” she says. The show goes on air Fridays/Tuesdays from 5:45 to 6 pm and can even listen to it online. It reaches a much wider audience on radio which is heard in poorer rural households who can’t afford a TV or it is switched off due to constant load shedding.
Instead of innumerable mindless talk shows that focus on politics and governance in this country, we need more initiatives that provide invaluable information on important topics like the environment and climate change. After all, Pakistan&’s unique geography from glacier — covered mountains in the north to the Indus river delta of the coast that makes it stand out not only as an extremely diverse country but also one that is increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. For several years now the country has been facing the consequences of a changing climate: erratic monsoon rains, rising temperatures leading to reduced agricultural output, glacial floods in high mountains, seawater intrusion into Indus Delta and extreme weather events like major floods and droughts.